‘EEEV’ is back: Canada reports record number of cases of mosquito-transmitted disease

New cases in Ontario and northern Minnesota show intensity of epidemic remains high, despite ongoing anti-COVID campaign

A report from Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr Helena Majors, says 521 people were infected with eastern equine encephalitis (EEEV) between July and May this year, the most confirmed cases since early September.

The numbers – nearly double that of 2015, when 323 cases were reported – suggest an ongoing level of intensity.

When the agency released its report in late June, it said it expected to see a dramatic drop in the number of cases after a dry spell from January to March, which reduced the mosquito population.

But the report from Majors shows numbers picked up by health officials haven’t dropped. This period has seen a 79% increase in confirmed cases compared to the same period last year.

Related: Eastern equine encephalitis virus cases in US surge by 20% in 2016

Health officials have launched several anti-EEEV campaigns in Ontario, including through the “Meeting the Enemy Here” campaign featuring a pair of fighter jets and a fighter team logo, which looked to raise awareness with schools, businesses and the community.

The campaign was especially prominent in Ottawa, which Dr Majors visited in March and where the disease is most prevalent. But after more than 3,000 people had visited the ITAP website from 12 Ottawa schools, the health unit’s outreach worker had to contact them via phone.

A bill to give the health unit the authority to shut down any facilities where cases of EEEV have been reported passed in the House of Commons this year. Health officials fear large schools and nightclubs are among the places where outbreaks could occur.

Majors said transmission of the disease “usually occurs in an open or even a vacant facility, including on large school bus stops”. It can also spread from house mosquitoes and through travel.

In Minnesota, EEEV has taken more than 700 lives since 2001. The deadly mosquito can survive in warm weather and the virus has spread mainly on tours in a large part of the Midwest. A mass vaccination in Canada could help stop the spread of the virus.

Ohio reported the first deaths from EEEV this year last month. The flu-like illness first caught on in 2001 in New York City, was found in Las Vegas in 2004 and began to spread to other states in the western US.

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