Marion County remains under a mosquito-borne illness advisory as animals continue to be diagnosed with the eastern equine encephalitis virus.
The risk of disease, also known as EEE, being spread to humans through mosquito bites has increased due to the number of local cases.
So far, five horses and two emus have died of the virus in Marion County this year. Deaths in horses and emus are a sign of an increased spread of the virus in a community.
Officials first reported the EEE outbreak in early March after an unvaccinated horse tested positive.
EEE is typically fatal in the equine population and can have severe effects, including death, in humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people most at risk for infection with EEE include those who work outside or spend time doing outdoor recreational activities due to added exposure to potentially infected mosquitoes. People involved with the care of emus with EEE virus infection also can be exposed by direct contact with infected birds or their bodily fluids or feces.
The Florida Department of Health recommends that residents take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes due to the heightened risk of disease transmission.
“If you’re going to spend time outdoors, you need to take preventive actions to avoid exposure to mosquitoes,” said Mark Lander, a health officer with the Florida Department of Health in Marion County. “Drain standing water around your home or property, cover your skin with clothing or repellent and work with a veterinarian to have your horses vaccinated for EEE if they are not currently vaccinated.”
Lander said it’s also important to consult a veterinarian or the University of Florida College of Large Animal Medicine on how to prevent EEE through vaccination in animals such as emus, alpacas and llamas.
The Florida Department of Health is continuing to conduct statewide surveillance for mosquito-borne illnesses, including EEE, West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, malaria, chikungunya and dengue. For more information, visit www.floridahealth.gov/%5C/diseases-and-conditions/mosquito-borne-diseases. For more information on eastern equine encephalitis, go to www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/eastern-equine-encephalitis.