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Indiana reports death of its 1st patient with equine virus since 1998

Indiana reports death of 1st patient with equine virus since 1998

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — One person is dead after contracting a rare virus transmitted by mosquitoes called Eastern equine encephalitis, Indiana health officials announced Saturday night.

The Elkhart County patient is the first Hoosier to contract the disease since 1998. Only four cases have been reported in Indiana since 1964.

As of Oct. 1, nine deaths had been reported in the nation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says typically five to 10 cases of eastern equine encephalitis pop up across the United States each year with one third of all cases proving fatal. Anyone younger than 15 or older than 50 is the most at risk for a severe disease if they’re infected with the virus, said a news release from the state Department of Health.

“It’s hard to imagine losing a loved one because of a mosquito bite, but, unfortunately, mosquitoes carry diseases that can be life-threatening,” said Dr. Kris Box, the state health commissioner, in the release. “This is a tragic loss for an Indiana family.”

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No additional information about the deceased person was provided by state health officials.

The state had previously reported the virus had been found in northern Indiana earlier this year in more than a dozen horses and one mosquito. Elkhart and LaGrange counties’ commissioners had authorized the spraying for mosquitoes after eight horses in Elkhart County and two in LaGrange County tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis, The Associated Press reported. Infected horses also had been found in Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Rhode Island.

The best way to prevent the virus is by warding off mosquitoes. The CDC lists methods to decrease chances of getting the disease:

  • Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are active (especially late afternoon, dusk to dawn and early morning).
  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on clothes and exposed skin.
  • Cover exposed skin by wearing a hat, long sleeves and long pants in places where mosquitoes are especially active, such as wooded areas.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of homes.

Hoosiers also are encouraged to eliminate mosquito breeding sites in these ways:

  • Discard old tires, tin and aluminum cans, ceramic pots or other containers that can hold water.
  • Repair failed septic systems.
  • Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors.
  • Keep grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed.
  • Clean clogged roof gutters, particularly if leaves tend to plug up the drains.
  • Frequently replace the water in pet bowls.
  • Flush ornamental fountains and birdbaths periodically.
  • Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with predatory fish.

If you start to get a fever, chills, body aches, and joint pains, those are generic symptoms of the virus. More severe cases see an inflammation of the brain called encephalitis.

An Indiana web page has more information about the virus.

This story was updated to correct the year that a Hoosier last contracted the virus.