Blood wanted: Vt. studies EEE virus

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May 14, 2013, 6:19 pm
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Sudbury, Vt.) - Sudbury, Vt. is a small town with plenty of pastures, woods, and wetlands that could be breeding sickness. "It's kind of scary," said Sudbury resident Cindy Thomas.

Thomas told New England Cable News that she worries about Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE. That's the rare and untreatable mosquito-borne illness that causes severe brain swelling and even death. Thomas offered her blood for research in a study that teams up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Boston Children's Hospital, and the Vt. Health Dept.

Vt. Health Dept. epidemiologist Matt Thomas, no relation to Cindy Thomas, said the researchers want to figure out how many people in this community may be unaware of their own exposure to the disease, because they're showing no symptoms.

"How many people are possibly infected with EEE, and don't know it?" Thomas wondered. "This is sort of our first step toward learning more."

The Sudbury clinic was the second of three scheduled this spring. At the first, in neighboring Brandon, more than 220 volunteers donated blood to be tested for antibodies to EEE. The final clinic will be held at the town hall in Whiting on May 29 from noon to 7 p.m.

The research study follows the deaths of two Vermonters from EEE last year. Scott Sgorbati, 49, of Sudbury, and 87-year-old Richard Hollis Breen of Brandon both died in 2012 from the disease that prompted aerial pesticide spraying to kill mosquitoes in their communities. The blood-collecting was scheduled for towns where infected mosquitoes have been found.

The study also aims to pinpoint more risk factors and better determine a person's chances of falling ill. Results could take a year, and may reveal if some people's immune systems are better than others at fighting off EEE.

"It is a possibility, and that's the kind of information we hope to get a little insight into with this kind of work," Matt Thomas said.

As for clinic participant Cindy Thomas, she told NECN she is looking forward to a safe and healthy summer for herself and her neighbors. "A no-mosquito summer," she said. "We can hope!"

Tags: vermont, Sudbury, EEE, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jack Thurston, Matt Thomas, Vermont Health Department, Boston Childrens Hospital, Cindy Thomas, Scott Sgorbati, Richard Hollis Breen
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