September 12, 2012

Maine seems to take threat of EEE in stride

Residents of Lebanon – where a second mosquito-borne illness is confirmed – are wary, but not worried.

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

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Dave Page cleans up a garden on his 16-acre farm on Upper Guinea Road in Lebanon on Tuesday. He wasn’t wearing insect repellent, but he says he does go in at dusk before most of the mosquitoes come out. Eastern equine encephalitis – a rare but serious viral disease spread by mosquitoes – was confirmed here last week.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Tom Ledue, principal of Hanson and Lebanon elementary schools, says school personnel are trying to “educate our kids” about EEE and West Nile “but not scare them. They don’t need to be afraid of going outside.”

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According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. It's a rare illness in humans, and only a few cases are reported in the U.S. annually. Severe cases – those marked by inflammation of the brain – begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting and can progress into disorientation, seizures or coma. EEE is one of the most severe mosquito-borne diseases in the U.S., with an estimated 33 percent mortality rate and significant brain damage in most survivors.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

But there was little evidence of concern as minivans and buses lined up to ferry students home.

"In general, it's been pretty good here," said Tom Ledue, principal of both schools. Already this semester, teachers have been required to provide age-appropriate lessons about the viruses and ways to prevent mosquito bites. "And we're encouraging parents to talk to their children," he said, to provide information and address any fears that might arise.

The intent is to "not put kids into a state of panic," Ledue said, but to demonstrate "the reality of the risk (and) put it in perspective."

"There are far greater risks we face every day," he said. Each of the viruses "looks scary and ... is a real thing. But in any given year the flu is going to be a greater risk to them."

Lebanon school officials late last month decided on what Ledue called "a prudent plan" to have the margins of the school properties and playgrounds sprayed with an herbal pesticide after West Nile was discovered.

But the 30 or so children out for Tuesday afternoon recess were interested only in romping around for a few minutes. The mood teachers and other school personnel are trying to create, Ledue said, is to "be really calm and objective, to educate our kids but not scare them. They don't need to be afraid of going outside."

While EEE can be transmitted to people and has been a human health issue, most recently in three Massachusetts cases, in Maine "the biggest concern is horses" (and) "reminding people that they should vaccinate their horses," Sears said.

"It's of concern," he acknowledged, "but it's something we've seen in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. We're going to continue to test" and monitor sites around the state, he said, at least through the end of September, or until the first few hard frosts suppress the mosquito populations.


Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Richard Dyer of Lebanon watches his grandson Joey Dyer, 3, as he plays in the yard Tuesday. Thirty farm-raised pheasants died recently in Lebanon from Eastern equine encephalitis. It’s rare in humans, and only a few cases are reported in the U.S. annually.


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