COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. - A renewed health alert in Collier County. A fourth horse has died from Eastern Equine Encephalitis, better known as EEE. But, horses aren't the only ones dying from this mosquito borne virus.
"We haven't had a human case of EEE in well over 50 years in Collier County," Deb Millsap with the Collier Health Department explains.
The department is on high alert after EEE claims it's first human victim in Hillsborough County. Health officials are concerned because the virus is rare in South Florida.
"The tendency is to have this virus a little more north, central to northern, and why we're having it so far south really has everyone concerned," Millsap says.
One of Rhonda Birge's horses is the most recent to succumb to the painful virus.
"The brain swells real fast and it's just the ugliest thing to see," Birge recalls of her horse Jake.
She just brought the horse down from North Carolina where it was up to date on it's vaccines, or so she thought.
"In North Carolina they might not look at the encephalitis like we do because of the mosquito population. So, they may give them shots, but not that shot," is why Birge believes Jake was left defenseless to EEE.
In Glades County, the owner of a mini horse, Peanut, went through a similar experience.
Owner Elaine Lewis says she can't imagine being in Peanut's place, "His ears would start twitching and his eyes would go all over the place like he was confused, and just fall on the ground and have a seizure."
With so many cases popping up locally, the Department of Health is concerned not just horses, but for people too. Millsap says they want the public to take this virus seriously, and remember the 5 Ds to avoid mosquito contact.
* Dusk and Dawn -- Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are seeking blood. For many species, this is during the dusk and dawn hours.
* Dress -- Wear clothing that covers most of your skin.
* DEET -- When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) are recommended. Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are other repellent options. Always read label directions carefully for the approved usage before you apply a repellent. Some repellents are not suitable for children.
* Drainage -- Check around your home to rid the area of standing water, which is where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.
Symptoms of EEE in humans develop 3-10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito and begin with a sudden onset of fever, general muscle pains, and a headache of increasing severity. Symptoms can become more severe over 1-2 weeks and infected individuals will either recover or show onset of inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) with seizures and vomiting. Millsap suggests you visit your doctor if you show any of these symptoms.