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A warm welcome to students and bugs

By Gabby Katz

Section: Arts

September 2, 2011

A new semester is upon us and the campus is abuzz with new students, new flowers, new pavement and new bugs. Hopefully everyone had an enjoyable and healthy summer and is gearing up for the school year. I am excited to be your go-to health gal again this year and look forward to providing you with recent health news and tips to make your year a good one. While you were gone, Boston experienced a Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) scare as a result of infected mosquitoes, so I thought I’d give you a little background on the scary virus and some tips on how to avoid infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, EEEV is a virus that lives by cycling through mosquito and avian hosts. Luckily, Ollie is not to blame for transmission of the disease, as the virus only mutates to human form in mosquitoes. Though it’s rare for the virus to be transmitted to humans, there were 37 reported cases in Massachusetts between 1964 and 2010, one of the highest averages among all the states in the country.

Infection is transmitted when a mosquito with EEEV bites a human and transfers the virus via the blood. Then, within four to 10 days, EEEV can progress to either a systemic or encephalitic infection. The systemic infection can last between one and two weeks, but will result in a full recovery. The encephalitic infection can lead to lifelong debilitating mental and physical problems, with a 33 percent mortality rate. Severe cases begin with the sudden onset of headaches, high fever, chills and vomiting, which can progress into disorientation, seizures and even coma.

For both types of illness, there is no specific antidote, and they can only be treated on a per-symptom basis. Reassuringly, only 4 to 5 percent of people infected with EEEV end up with the full EEE illness.

Is it time to arm ourselves with fly swatters and flail around at the sight of any mosquito on campus? Well, not quite. According to news station WPRI, these past few months have only witnessed cases of EEEV detected in mosquitoes in Fall River, Lakeville and Middleboro, with no human cases seen yet. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that, over the past years, more than 60 percent of all human cases were found in Plymouth and Norfolk counties, the latter of which is adjacent to Middlesex County, home of Brandeis. Clearly there’s not only potential for the virus to be transmitted to humans, but also for it to happen around here.

With peak infection season occurring between July and September, I decided to join the special Brandeis Bug Patrol Task Force and list some easy techniques for preventing contraction of EEE, provided by the Health and Human Services:

—Use bug sprays that contain DEET, Permethrin, IR3535 or Picaridin. (If cancer-causing chemicals are not your thing, oil of lemon eucalyptus can also be effective.)

—Plan your cute outfits with items safely by covering your legs and arms while outdoors.

—Limit your outside activity during evening and early morning hours if you don’t want to be some mosquito’s midnight snack.

—Befriend Facilities and fix any holes in your screens, thus ensuring that your windows are sealed well.

—Don’t leave any standing water around in trash cans or recycling bins for more than four days unless you’re planning on opening a mosquito hotel.

While it’s hardly time to curse every little bugger on campus, being aware and smart about these risks will help you stay healthy for classes and for the exciting first weekend back. So, go frolic on the Great Lawn with bug spray in tow and have a great first day of classes! As always, tune in for more health tips and send me an e-mail at gkatz10@brandeis.edu with any health-related questions you may have.

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