September 26, 2019

Reed & Whitehouse Seek to Enlist USDA in Effort to Combat Brain-Infecting EEE in RI

PROVIDENCE, RI – Sometimes the best defense is a good offense — at least when it comes to arboviruses (a scientific term used to describe a group of viral infections transmitted to humans from a group of infected insects).

U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse are urging the federal government to be more proactive in helping Rhode Island and other states impacted by this year’s outbreak of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), a rare and serious mosquito-borne illness.  They sent a letter this week asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help the state track, prevent, and respond to EEE as a part of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). 

The Senators say that due to the significant increase in EEE cases, and to help prevent future outbreaks, it is imperative that the federal government actively assist Rhode Island and other impacted states.  They want USDA to provide Rhode Island with funding and assistance for research, prevention, and response to EEE. 

Since August, there have been nearly thirty reported cases of humans with EEE virus in several states, including Rhode Island.  There have been ten recorded deaths from EEE this year, including one in Rhode Island, two in Connecticut, three in Michigan, and four in Massachusetts.  The fatality in Rhode Island was the first fatal EEE case in the state since 2007.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, on average, about five to ten people contract EEE in the U.S. each year.  Prior to this year, there hadn’t been a human case of EEE in Rhode Island since 2010.  Last week, Reed and Whitehouse urged the CDC to increase research and prevention assistance to Rhode Island for EEE surveillance and control activities.

In addition to seeking increased federal resources to combat EEE, Reed and Whitehouse are urging Rhode Islanders not to panic, but to take appropriate steps to keep mosquitoes away, including: reducing mosquito infestation, using insect repellant, wearing proper clothing, and securing window screens to reduce risk of mosquito exposure, and thus possible infection.

Full text of the letter to USDA follows:


September 25, 2019


Secretary Sonny Perdue


U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

As you know, the mosquito-carried Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus has made a sudden comeback this year in the United States, and in particular, in our home state of Rhode Island.  While nationwide we usually see fewer than ten yearly diagnoses, Rhode Island alone has confirmed three human cases in the last two months.  Areas of the state remain at critical risk for the virus, and we request the assistance of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in tracking, preventing, and responding to EEE as a part of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Of the three cases diagnosed in Rhode Island since August, all have resulted in hospitalizations, one of which sadly proved fatal.  Indeed, the threat to human health posed by this virus is severe: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one-third of all human cases are fatal.  Furthermore, the four-to-ten day incubation period means these numbers likely under-represent the total number of cases of EEE throughout the state.  

As such, methods to mitigate EEE exposure are essential.  Since EEE is contracted through mosquito bites, mosquito control efforts such as spraying pesticides are among the most effective ways to stifle the virus’s spread.  By targeting areas that are particularly prone to breeding and areas identified by government agencies that are at critical risk for EEE, environmental initiatives work in concert with other EEE prevention tools to address the virus at its source. 

EEE’s renewed presence in our state necessitates swift action to prevent its spread to more families and communities.  We have sent a similar letter to your colleagues at the CDC requesting assistance in addressing the outbreak from a health standpoint, but these efforts must be combined with agricultural solutions to achieve maximum effectiveness in the fight against EEE.  We urge you to use all means available to bolster research, prevention, and response efforts relating to insect, plant, and animal related diseases and infestations.  Thank you for your attention and consideration in this important matter.



Jack Reed

United States Senator


Sheldon Whitehouse

United States Senator



Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921