Rare, mosquito-borne disease detected in Florida

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A deadly, mosquito-borne virus has been detected in Florida. Health officials are warning about the up-tick and urging people to protect themselves.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE, is a very rare -- and very deadly -- illness. Testing shows the virus is present in the Bay Area, and all it takes is a bite from an infected mosquito to become sick.

"Fortunately, most humans won't be affected, they won't get the disease," explained FOX 13's Dr. Joette Giovinco. "But the small percentage that do, they can have a very serious infection. It can cause brain swelling."

This year, the virus has been detected in 25 horses, one emu, one eagle, and 77 chickens, in 27 counties across the sunshine state, including animals in Polk, Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus counties.

In Central Florida, the Department of Health Orange County (DOH - Orange) has issued a warning after EEE was detected in several sentinel chickens.

"EEE is something to be concerned about," said Kent Donahue with DOH - Orange. "The sentinel chickens are placed out throughout the counties to warn us basically of these different viruses."

Sentinel chickens don't get sick from the disease, however, they can carry it and are tested regularly to give experts a heads-up if the virus present. Sentinel chickens are kept in several Bay Area counties, but none have been reported to have the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, only about seven cases of EEE in humans are reported across the country each year. However, from 2009 to 2018, Florida had the highest number of infections.

For anyone who becomes infected, EEE can be devastating or deadly.

"It kills about a third of the individuals, and those that survive often have lifelong neurological problems," Giovinco explained. "They should be on alert, and really this is kind of a wake-up call so people can take precautions... You especially want to protect your children and yourself from mosquitos."

Officials say the best way to protect yourself from mosquitos and mosquito-borne illnesses is to wear long sleeves and pants, use insect repellent, and get rid of any standing water at your house.