"If it can help other people, that is really why I am here," said Jan Ripley of Brandon. "It was very tragic, what happened to him."
Ripley attended the Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) clinic in Brandon in honor of Richard Breen, a friend who died from the virus last August. His passing marked the first EEE death in the state, but wasn't the last in the area.
"It was a really hard summer. It was a hard time," Ripley said.
In response to the two deaths, the clinic was held to see how many people in Brandon, Whiting and Sudbury have been infected with EEE, a disease that still has no specific treatment or vaccine and has many unanswered questions.
"We are still at a stage so far back in our understanding of EEE that this is a point which we need to start," said Matt Thomas of the Vt. Department of Health.
The clinic begins with a questionnaire that gathers information on the individual's behavior, such as outside activities and place of work. Blood is then taken to be tested for the virus. The blood samples taken will be linked only to the questionnaires, meaning individuals coming to the clinic will not find out if they test positive for EEE. However, some say they are more interested in the overall research than the individual results.
"I am curious as to why it hit our area and if anyone is a carrier perhaps," said Kathie Dick of Brandon. "So, I was more than happy to participate."
The blood tests will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control, where it could take up to a year for analysis to be completed.
"If you are positive and you haven't developed an illness, I think that is good information to know," Thomas said. "This way we may find out that people can be positive and not become ill."
Although this clinic can give a rough idea of how many people in these three towns are currently infected with EEE, it does not test for when they became infected. So, they could have been infected last summer or 10 summers ago. The CDC says it is possible that the disease can be detected for an extended period of time after exposure, but answers about how long EEE antibodies last will only come with future research.
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