HEALTH ALERT: Human Case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis Confirmed in Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. - It started with a headache.

"It would hurt a lot and then not," said James Hatfield.

The 11-year-old's symptoms escalated quickly.  Within 24 hours of complaining of a headache, he spiked a fever, became disoriented and then slipped into a coma.

"You could look into his eyes and see he wasn't there," explained James' mother Katherine Kinsey.

By his besides at the hospital, Kinsey watched her son deteriorate in the intensive care unit for three days. 

"I was beside myself," said Kinsey.

Doctors did not know what James had, why he was in a coma or when he would wake up.  His symptoms mimicked meningitis and that was the working diagnosis.  But, a spinal tap revealed James had Eastern Equine Encephalitis or EEE.

The Florida Department of Health just confirmed this is the first human case of locally of EEE for 2013.  The CDC reports mosquito transferred illness is rare and five to 10 cases are reported nationally every year.

The last time Hillsborough County had a case of EEE was in August 2010.

According a Kinsey, her son contracted the virus while on a field trip to a nature preserve.

"I just prayed to God not to take him," Kinsey said.

James will head back to school Tuesday for the first time in 20 days.  He is not contagious as this virus is not spread from human to human.

The Florida Department of Health has issued an advisory for the community to take precautions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

According to Amanda Pullman, Epidemiologist, Florida Department of Health, Hillsborough County, symptoms for EEE may include fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis, convulsions, and coma.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis is a rare disease that is caused by a virus spread by infected mosquitoes. The EEE virus is one of a group of mosquito-transmitted viruses that can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). In the United States, approximately 5-10 EEE cases are reported annually.  EEE is only transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and does not occur directly from person to person.

The Florida Department of Health provided these tips to help stop the spread of mosquitoes from living and multiplying around your home or business:

  • Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying.
  • DISCARD: Old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
  • EMPTY and CLEAN: Birdbaths and pet's water bowls at least once or twice a week.
  • PROTECT: Boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don't accumulate water.
  • MAINTAIN: The water balance (pool chemistry) of swimming pools. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.
  • Cover your skin with clothing and use mosquito repellent.
  • CLOTHING: If you must be outside when mosquitoes are active, cover up. Wear shoes, socks, long pants, and long sleeves.
  • REPELLENT: Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing. Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are effective. Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months. Keep mosquitoes out of your house. Repair broken screens on windows, doors, porches, and patios.
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