SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Questions and concerns from patients about Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE, are popping up in local doctors offices and urgent care centers.
With the threat of the mosquito-borne illness now raised to critical in 36 communities, local health care providers told Western Mass News that more and more patients are coming in with mosquito bites, wondering if it's something more.
The state has now identified seven human cases of EEE, a rare but sometimes fatal virus spread by infected mosquitos.
"Here's the tough part: it presents initially just like a viral illness, so a little bit of fever, nausea, vomiting, body aches, maybe a headache, malaise," said Louise Cardelina, a physician assistant with AFC Urgent Care in Springfield.
Cardelina told Western Mass News that since the state raised the risk of EEE in close to 200 communities, more and more patients are coming in with concerns.
"Yes, I had a patient two days ago who had fever, nausea, vomiting, and was really concerned that it might be Eastern Equine Encephalitis," Cardelina explained.
With so many patients asking questions, AFC Urgent Care is now passing out a EEE fact sheet and providers are asking more of their own questions to patients.
"If people come in with viral symptoms of fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, body aches, fatigue, I do ask if they've had a mosquito bite recently," Cardelina noted.
The Mass. Department of Public Health said the EEE infection can result in two types of illnesses: systemic or encephalitic.
"Only two percent of adults and six percent of children will develop the actual encephalitis, which means inflammation of the brain," Cardelina added.
So how do you know?
"If there is a mosquito bite just watch for fever, body aches, joint pains, tiredness, headache, any of those, then you really want to get checked further," Cardelina said.
Viral symptoms generally appear within four to 10 days of a bite.
Cardelina said when in doubt, "What I say to my patients is I'd rather you come in for no reason at all and it be a okay, as opposed to staying at home and it becomes something difficult to take care of because it's progressed."
The Mass. Department of Public Health announced Wednesday the first human case of West Nile Virus, another mosquito-borne illness, has been diagnosed in a man in his 60s in Middlesex County. However, this year, Mass. DPH reports the risk of human infection with West Nile is still low.
Nonetheless, officials are reminding people to use protection against mosquitoes.