The threat of disease is always looming, whether it be cancer from the air we breathe or influenza from the hands we shake, but now another worrisome illness has made its way close to home. Eastern Equine Encephalitis has been discovered in York County at a farm in Lebanon. This isn’t the first season that this disease has been found in the area, as it has claimed animal lives nearby in the past few years, and it surely won’t be the last.

So far, no Maine residents have contracted the disease, although about 30 pheasants ”“ half of a flock of 70 ”“ were recently wiped out at the Lebanon farm where EEE was diagnosed as the culprit. West Nile, another mosquito-borne illness, was also found in mosquitoes in Lebanon just last month.

Both of these mosquito-borne illnesses are serious, as they can be fatal.

Many people have no obvious symptoms of the EEE virus, even though they are infected, while others may have flu-like symptoms or experience encephalitis ”“ the swelling or inflammation of the brain, which can lead to coma and death.

West Nile Virus causes similar, flu-like symptoms and  can lead to convulsions, paralysis and also meningitis/encephalitis.

To make it even more scary, there’s no specific treatment for either virus.

According to the Maine Centers for Disease Control, no Maine resident has ever been reported as having contracted EEE or West Nile, but in 2008 a Massachusetts resident died from EEE after vacationing in Cumberland County. Massachusetts and New Hampshire have had confirmed human cases, and two suspected cases, of West Nile and EEE, are currently under investigation here in Maine.

This all means that these very serious diseases are very close by, and while there’s no need for an outright panic, prevention is something to be taken seriously.

Of course, we can’t spend all of our time inside, bundled up in multiple layers of clothing that we’ve soaked in bug spray. We all still have to live our lives, and for many of us, that means plenty of time outdoors, where we’re convenient hosts for these pests. So it follows that we have to take sensible precautions against mosquito bites, just the same as we check ourselves for ticks after a woodsy outing.

The CDC advocates that people stay inside during mosquitoes’ peak feeding periods of dawn and dusk, and that we wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks and shoes when we got out. Insect repellent spray is also recommended by the CDC. These efforts, while they can be uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenient, will help significantly reduce one’s risk of mosquito bites.

It’s also important to try and minimize the amount of mosquitoes near your home, to lessen your risk, and the CDC reminds everyone that any standing water must be eliminated, because that’s where most mosquitoes lay their eggs. That means kiddie pools, recycling bins, dog dishes ”“ any outdoor areas that gather water, must be dried out.

The best way to combat disease ”“ any disease ”“ is prevention, and that’s what is in order with this recent threat. These disease are transmitted only by mosquitoes, so even though many of us have been taking mosquito bites in stride for most of our lives, it’s time to view them more seriously as we realize the real threat they can pose when one of those biters is carrying a deadly virus.

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Today’s editorial was written by Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski, representing the majority opinion of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Kristen by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].