9/21/2019 — 

PROVIDENCE, RI – Citing a significant uptick in the number of human cases of the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in New England this year, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse are urging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase federal assistance for Rhode Island to help contain and combat the deadly virus.  The Senators are also urging Rhode Islanders to take precautions to protect themselves from mosquitoes that can carry EEE by taking simple steps such wearing insect repellent and long sleeves, and securing window screens to reduce risk of mosquito exposure, and thus possible infection.

While the overall incidence rate of neuroinvasive EEE is low, and people should not be fearful about EEE, health officials do know there has been an increase in the number of reported cases so far this year, with the Associated Press confirming that at least twenty-one people in six states have been diagnosed with EEE so far in 2019, and five people have died from the disease.

In a letter to the head of the CDC, Reed and Whitehouse wrote:  “As you know, the mosquito-carried Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus has made a sudden comeback this year in the United States, and in particular, in our home state of Rhode Island.  Its unexpected spread has been rapid and deadly, with the first confirmed human diagnosis in early August and, as of September 18, three confirmed deaths nationwide from the infection.  As such, we write to request increased federal assistance for Rhode Island to help contain and combat the virus, as one of the states hit hardest by the ongoing EEE outbreak.”

The Senators letter continued: “We are encouraged by the quick action‎ taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past to inform the public about other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as Zika, and we urge you to apply these awareness and prevention strategies to the current EEE outbreak.  As you know, simple steps such as insect repellent, long sleeves, and securing window screens can dramatically reduce risk of mosquito exposure, and thus possible infection. 

“As Congress works to continue funding for further research into vector-borne illnesses, we urge your administration to allocate funding in a timely manner to support efforts to prevent the spread of EEE and expedite public awareness to protect our communities from this public health threat.  These efforts will be critical to bolster ongoing work in Rhode Island to raise awareness, treat those infected, prevent future cases, and ultimately save lives.”  

In Rhode Island, the Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) have coordinated the state’s response to EEE, which has included testing, monitoring mosquito activity, and aerial spraying.  The state agencies report that the four critical risk areas of the state that have previously been sprayed were located in northern Rhode Island (parts of Burrillville, North Smithfield, and Woonsocket); parts of Westerly, Hopkinton, and Charlestown; all of West Warwick and parts of Coventry, Cranston, Scituate, Warwick, East Greenwich, and West Greenwich; and all of Central Falls, Pawtucket, and North Providence and parts of Providence, East Providence, Smithfield, Lincoln, and Cumberland.

RIDOH's State Health Laboratories have detected EEE in six mosquito pools around the state: two from Central Falls, three from Westerly, and one from Block Island.  Additionally, one horse from Westerly and three deer (from Coventry, Exeter, and Richmond) tested positive for EEE.  Deer and horses cannot transmit EEE to humans. 

However, they are an indication that infected mosquitoes are present in the area and people need to continue to take precautions.

Full text of the letter follows:

September 21, 2019
The Honorable Robert Redfield, M.D.           
Director         
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention            
1600 Clifton Road      
Atlanta, G.A. 30333   

Dear Director Redfield:

As you know, the mosquito-carried Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus has made a sudden comeback this year in the United States, and in particular, in our home state of Rhode Island.  Its unexpected spread has been rapid and deadly, with the first confirmed human diagnosis in early August and, as of September 18, three confirmed deaths nationwide from the infection.  As such, we write to request increased federal assistance for Rhode Island to help contain and combat the virus, as one of the states hit hardest by the ongoing EEE outbreak. 

Over the last two months, Rhode Island has seen three confirmed human cases of EEE, all leading to hospitalizations and sadly resulting in one death.  This number is particularly alarming given that fewer than ten EEE cases are usually diagnosed nationwide in an entire year, and about one-third of all cases are fatal.  Furthermore, the four-to-ten day incubation period means these numbers likely under-represent the total number of cases of EEE throughout the state.  

We are encouraged by the quick action‎ taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past to inform the public about other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as Zika, and we urge you to apply these awareness and prevention strategies to the current EEE outbreak.  As you know, simple steps such as insect repellent, long sleeves, and securing window screens can dramatically reduce risk of mosquito exposure, and thus possible infection. 

As Congress works to continue funding for further research into vector-borne illnesses, we urge your administration to allocate funding in a timely manner to support efforts to prevent the spread of EEE and expedite public awareness to protect our communities from this public health threat.  These efforts will be critical to bolster ongoing work in Rhode Island to raise awareness, treat those infected, prevent future cases, and ultimately save lives.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and we look forward to working with you as we continue to fight against and prevent EEE.

Sincerely,

Jack Reed
United States Senator

Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senator