EEE virus kills flock of pheasants at Maine farm

Posted Sept. 11, 2012, at 4:51 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 12, 2012, at 6:44 a.m.
Dr. Stephen Sears, Maine state epidemiologist
Dr. Stephen Sears, Maine state epidemiologist

LEBANON, Maine — A flock of 30 farm-raised pheasants in Lebanon has died from Eastern equine encephalitis, marking the first confirmed presence of the dangerous mosquito-borne disease in Maine this year.

The owner of the York County farm contacted state officials after the birds died off, according to Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist. Tests confirmed the virus, known as EEE, which has reappeared after killing a number of horses in the state in 2009.

“We already knew the risk in this area and this just emphasizes the need to take prudent mosquito precautions,” Sears said.

Birds in captivity can spread the disease to each other through pecking, so not all of the pheasants were necessarily bitten by infected mosquitoes, he said.

Sears was not sure whether the farm’s pheasants were raised for sale or for release for hunting, but eating pheasants infected with EEE poses no danger to humans, he said.

The symptoms of the disease are similar to West Nile virus, another disease carried by mosquitoes that has reappeared in Maine, but EEE is often more deadly, leading to death in 35 to 50 percent of cases.

Last week, a Vermont man died of EEE.

Neither mosquito-borne disease has been found in Maine residents. West Nile recently was diagnosed in a Philadelphia resident who visited the state and tests on another person for EEE came back negative, Sears said.

West Nile was detected in Maine for the first time this year in mid-August in a mosquito trap in Lebanon.

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