Health Center warns students of the ‘critical’ risk level of Triple E virus: Homecoming event schedule modified to accommodate safety concerns

Courtesy of City of Framingham

On Sept. 13, the Dean of Students office sent an email to the campus community on behalf of Ilene Hofrenning, director of the Health Center, stating the City of Framingham increased the risk level for the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus to “critical.” 

This was an update from a previous Aug. 30 email listing the risk for EEE as “high.”

EEE, colloquially known by the nickname “Triple E,” is a virus that originates from birds, according to Hofrenning. After biting birds, mosquitoes spread the virus to humans and other species such as horses, for which the virus is named.

“On the one hand, it’s extremely rare,” Hofrenning said. “There’s only been eight people in Massachusetts who have nine affected by Triple E this year.

“But on the other hand, it’s very, very dangerous,” she added.

According to information provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), between 1938 and 2013, there were 100 recorded cases of EEE in the commonwealth.

“However, the mortality rate for those affected is high, and survivors often suffer severe neurological sequelae,” or pathological conditions, according to the MDPH.

Of those 100 cases, 55% resulted in death.

According to University emails, symptoms of the virus include a high fever that can reach 103 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, stiff neck, headache, and lethargy.

“These symptoms show up three to 10 days after a bite from an infected mosquito,” the email states. “Inflammation and swelling of the brain, called encephalitis, is the most dangerous and frequent serious complication. 

“The disease gets worse quickly and some patients may go into a coma within a week. If you develop any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately. There is no treatment for EEE, but supportive care can be given,” according to the email.

Hofrenning said there are no recorded cases of the virus in Framingham, but some surrounding towns have seen some severe cases – such as Sudbury, where a five-year-old girl is reported to be in “critical condition,” according to WCVB.

Both the City of Framingham and the MDPH advised Massachusetts residents to follow their set recommendations to avoid mosquito bites, according to the email.

Hofrenning said this weekend’s homecoming events, such as the carnival and the Sunset Salsa, have been moved to earlier time slots, as well as relocated indoors, so as to maximize safety and minimize risk.

“The Sunset Salsa was supposed to be in Crocker Grove – which would have been really fun – but that’s been moved inside DPAC,” she said.

These moves follow one of the recommendations set forth by the MDPH to schedule outdoor events earlier. It also advises people to wear longer garments to reduce the amount of exposed skin, as well as use insect repellent that contains DEET – a common name for the active ingredient in many repellents.

“But the good news is … it went down into the 40s last night,” Hofrenning said. “So, the colder it gets, the less active the mosquitos are.

“So usually by the end of September, the risk is quite low. By the time we have our first frost, the risk is gone – the mosquitos are gone,” she added.

According to Hofrenning, these mosquitoes also carry the West Nile Virus (WNV). However, the risk of contracting this virus is reported as “low” in most areas of the state, with some cities and towns, such as Worcester, Boston, and Newton, reporting a risk level of “moderate,” according to the website.

WNV is more of a concern among the very young and elderly – “over 50 and under 2,” according to Hofrenning.

“They [the mosquitoes] tend to be more active between dusk and dawn – especially at dusk and especially at dawn,” she said.

Hofrenning added the MDPH performs weekly tests to gauge risk levels.

She said, “I don’t think people should be scared, and they shouldn’t be worried, but they should take precautions.”