Researchers say that chickens in Florida have helped them identify a rare, mosquito-borne disease and how it spreads northward. It was determined that Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEE) originates in the Florida panhandle and has spread as far North as Nova Scotia, Canada.
Because of Florida's mild climate, the disease, which affects horses and humans, is a threat year-round, said Dr. Suman Das, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Das believes that EEE is the deadliest virus humans are potentially exposed to in the United States. Though rare (only 70 cases of EEE in humans have been reported since 2008), the mortality rate is nearly 40 percent.
In humans, EEE can result in personality disorders, severe intellectual impairment, seizures and paralysis; in horses EEE causes inflammation of the brain. Horses have have a fever, muscle twitches and a staggering gait. Horses that contract EEE will go down and be unable to rise; they typically die within three days after the onset of clinical signs. A vaccination for EEE is available for horses.
Scientists are concerned about the infection rate spreading as global warming lengthens mosquito seasons further north. Now that it's clear where the virus originates, prevention efforts can be put in place in Florida. To determine where the hub of EEE infection was located, scientists put a “chicken surveillance program” in place, using flocks of chickens in 38 counties.
EEE does not kill chickens, but bloodwork will show antibodies to EEE. Researchers began using chickens 12 years ago and from blood tests, it has been determined that EEE occurs year-round in the panhandle, but only seasonally further north, making it the source of all EEE infections in the northeastern U.S.
Read more at United Press International.
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