Maine CDC Press Release

September 28, 2009

Eastern Equine Encephalitis Confirmed In Second Pheasant Flock

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Donald E. Hoenig, VMD, State Veterinarian, 207-287-7615
or Scott Lindsay, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Regional Wildlife Biologist, 207-657-2345 x 110

AUGUSTA - The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maine Department of Agriculture and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife announced today that a second pheasant flock in York County has been confirmed with the disease Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).

The first case of EEE in a South Berwick pheasant flock was confirmed on September 18 by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The second flock is located in the town of Parsonsfield.

EEE previously has been diagnosed in 14 horses in five counties in Maine since August 3 - York, Cumberland, Waldo and Penobscot and Kennebec. All 14 horses have died.

EEE is a mosquito-borne viral disease that occurs in the eastern half of the United States. It can affect humans, horses and some bird species. EEE is regarded as one of the most serious mosquito-borne diseases in the United States.

Many persons infected with EEE will have no obvious symptoms. In those persons who do develop illness, symptoms range from mild flu-like illness to inflammation of the brain, coma and death.

In horses, the disease causes an infection of the brain and central nervous system resulting in lethargy, poor coordination, circling, seizures, coma and eventual death in 95-100 percent of affected animals.

In humans and animals, there is no specific treatment for EEE, but there is a very effective vaccine for horses. The horses that have died during the current Maine outbreak were either not vaccinated or had an incomplete vaccination history.

Both of the York County flocks of pheasants are currently under quarantine and will be humanely euthanized due to the uncertainty surrounding the length of time that pheasants can carry the virus.

The pheasants, which were brought to Maine as chicks, were raised under a cooperative program between the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and several rod and gun clubs. Now, as adults, it is believed that they recently contracted the disease from mosquitoes.

The pheasants from the two York County flocks were scheduled for release during Maine’s upcoming bird hunting season. Pheasant season starts Thursday, Oct. 1. Pheasants not included in this quarantine, in addition to adult birds arriving this week from a certified out-of-state supplier, will be used to stock 23 sites for public hunting during the month of October. To view the sites, visit www.mefishwildlife.com.

The greatest EEE risk facing hunters is exposure to mosquitoes and not from the consumption of game. It is unlikely, but it is possible, that a person could become infected with EEE from blood-to-blood contact that could occur between a hunter and a dead pheasant when the bird is being field dressed, or by consuming improperly prepared meat.

EEE is best prevented in humans by avoiding exposure to mosquitoes and wearing long-sleeved clothing during times of peak mosquito activity and approved repellants. Also, people should keep tight screens on windows, doors and porches.

Hunters should always take the following precautions when handling wild game:

  • Do not handle or consume wild animals that appear sick or act abnormally, regardless of the cause;
  • Cook meat thoroughly to kill this virus as well as any other viruses or bacteria that may be present. (Pheasant internal temperature should be at least 165 degrees);
  • Always wear heavy rubber or latex gloves when field dressing game;
  • Handle knives carefully to prevent accidental cuts;
  • Wash hands with soap and hot water after handling a bird or animal and before and after handling meat;
  • Thoroughly sanitize equipment and work surfaces used during processing with bleach solution (one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon water). Consider keeping a separate set of knives used only for field dressing game.

More information on EEE can be found at the Maine CDC EEE web site: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/ddc/epi/vector-borne/index.shtml