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Hillsborough woman dies of eastern equine encephalitis

TAMPA — A Hillsborough woman has died of a rare, mosquito-borne disease that causes inflammation of the brain.

Hillsborough health officials on Tuesday announced the state's first death from eastern equine encephalitis since 2008. Only five to 10 cases each year are reported nationally.

In recent weeks, four horses in Hills­borough have tested positive for EEE, health officials said, increasing the potential for people to get infected.

The disease is transmitted by a mosquito bite. Symptoms can begin four to 10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. They include sudden headache, high fever, chills and vomiting.

The disease can progress into disorientation, seizures and coma. There is no treatment specifically for an EEE infection. About a third of patients will die, and many of those who survive have brain damage, the Health Department noted.

"This tragic loss of life is a reminder that as we move through the summer months, we must all be aware of how we can protect ourselves from mosquito-borne diseases," Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the Hillsborough County Health Department, said in a statement.

Health officials declined to release additional information about the woman, who lived in northern Hillsborough County and died on July 1.

Early this morning, Hillsborough County's mosquito control department plans to spray pesticide by air in the North Tampa area, as it does regularly around the county during the summer rainy season.

The mosquito population is closely tied to weather patterns. When Hillsborough sees more water, it can expect greater mosquito activity, said Hillsborough County spokesman Willie Puz.

To protect yourself, health officials recommend the following:

• Avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn.

• Wear clothing that covers your skin.

• Use mosquito repellents containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or N, N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are other options.

• Check the drainage around your home. Get rid of standing water where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit www.tampabay.com/health.

Hillsborough woman dies of eastern equine encephalitis 07/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 7:58am]
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