- Two Mexican gray wolf pups died this month of eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, a deadly virus spread by mosquitoes that can cause brain swelling, convulsions and fever in humans and animals.
- More than two dozen cases of EEE have been reported in humans this season, making it the biggest outbreak in a decade. At least 10 people have died.
- Horses, zebras, llamas, and alpacas are among the most susceptible animals.
- Although rare, the disease can also affect domestic dogs and cats. Pet owners can protect their companions by keeping them indoors or using a veterinarian-approved bug repellent.
Two Mexican gray wolf pups died at a zoo in Michigan in early September, a tragic blow for the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in the world, local news outlets have reported.
Now, the culprit has been identified as the mosquito-borne virus eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, a life-threatening infection that has sickened nearly 30 people across the U.S., as well as dozens of horses. Ten people have died, and experts have said this is the biggest outbreak of the disease in decades.
The pups’ death illustrates another upsetting feature of the virus: It can infect, and kill, all types of animals, including domestic cats and dogs.
EEE kills a third of the people it infects
About a third of patients with EEE die, either within weeks of getting this disease or years later as a result of ongoing physical and mental impairment. Survivors can experience permanent brain damage that results in seizures, mental impairment, and even personality changes.
The condition is incurable, but its symptoms can be successfully treated if it’s caught before it spreads to the brain.
Triple E is most often found in the northeastern United States in swampy, wooded areas from late spring to early fall. It can also be found in southern states into the winter months.
Read more: A deadly mosquito-borne illness kills a third of the people it infects, and it’s spreading. Here’s what we know about the states affected.
But this season, EEE has appeared in places like Michigan and Rhode Island, and the number of infections is already beyond the typical five to 10 human cases per season.
EEE can also affect animals, and horses are especially susceptible
Horses are among the most susceptible animals to EEE, along with llamas and alpacas.
Other equine species like zebras are also at risk, according to the a press release from the Binder Park Zoo, where the wolf pups died. There is a vaccine approved for horses and similar animals, however, no such prevention is available for humans or canines.
In Michigan, where the wolf pups were located, there have been 26 total animal fatalities this season, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer, including 12 horses and nine deer. There have been at least seven cases in the state, and three people have died.
Horses have also contracted fatal EEE infections in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Ohio.
No cases of EEE in pets have yet been reported in any state this season
Although this season has seen a record number of EEE cases in humans, cases in domestic pets like cats and dogs are “very rare,” according to the health department of Massachusetts, one of the states facing a major threat from the virus this year.
A spokeswoman for the Michigan zoo said that people should talk to veterinarians about concerns of EEE in pets, as wild animals are a very different case than domestic ones, the Enquirer reported.
Pet owners concerned for their animals can help keep them safe by bringing their pets indoors, especially after dark, and using a veterinarian-approved pest repellent if exposure to mosquitos is unavoidable.
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