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Cases of Rare But Deadly Encephalitis Rising Among Kids, Report Finds
Date:1/17/2013

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Although still rare, the extremely serious disease known as Eastern equine encephalitis may be affecting more people than before.

In a recent review of two epidemics of Eastern equine encephalitis since the mid-2000s, researchers found 15 cases of the mosquito-borne illness among children in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Normally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records about five to 10 cases a year nationwide.

"This virus is rare, but it's among the world's most dangerous viruses, and it's in your own backyard," said lead review author Dr. Asim Ahmed, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital Boston.

In 2012 alone, Massachusetts had seven documented cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, which is the highest number of infections reported since 1956. What's more, the first human case ever in Vermont was reported in 2012. And, public health surveillance indicates that the virus that causes Eastern equine encephalitis may now have traveled as far north as Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada.

Results of the review are published in the February issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Ahmed said that better detection of the virus is at least part of the reason for the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with the disease, but he doesn't believe that better testing accounts for all the new cases.

"There's a sense that the activity of the virus has increased. People are living closer to habitats of mosquitoes in nature, and global warming is allowing mosquitoes to be active longer. Most mosquitoes thrive in warmer weather," Ahmed said.

And that's true for the mosquito that transmits Eastern equine encephalitis. Cases peak from the spring through early fall, according to the CDC.

Despite its name, Eastern equine encephalitis isn't more common around horses. The
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