OSWEGO, NY – The deadly illness Eastern Equine Encephalitis took its ultimate toll on Aug. 14. Maggie Sue Glenister Wilcox, a five-year-old girl from New Haven died from the mosquito-borne disease.
In an effort to prevent this tragedy from being repeated, local and state officials gathered in the board room at the Oswego Education Center today for a three-hour forum on finding better ways to combat EEE.
State Senator Patty Ritchie organized the event after this summer’s large-scale outbreak of the disease claimed the life of the New Haven child.
“I don’t want any other family to have to go through what Maggie Wilcox’s family has gone through,” Ritchie said today as she offered her condolences to members of Maggie’s family who were seated in the front row.
Donna Wilcox, Maggie’s aunt, told the media following the forum that the little girl would have relished the event.
“If you knew Maggie, this would just be an ordinary day for her. It’s just how she was. Everything with her was done in a very big fashion, a big production and she loved it. She would have loved this,” her aunt said.
She described Maggie as “a dancing little star … loved to sing and just loved everything!”
The family is going “minute to minute sometimes” since the little girl’s death earlier this summer, she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “We hope that it will get a little easier, just because we do have to continue on with our lives. Maggie has a brother and a sister that need her mom and dad to be focused on them as well. It’s just very difficult still. It is probably going to be that way for a while.”
The family wants to make sure the public is educated about EEE, so that no other family has to go through what they have.
“We need to know we’re doing everything possible so another ‘Maggie’ doesn’t happen. At this point, that’s our family’s goal; to make sure that the public is aware because so many of them are not aware of what is happening, and what has happened and what they can do to prevent it and keep their families safe,” Donna said.
The forum helped answer a lot of questions for the family, she added.
“I’m very thankful for that. I have been asking over and over again and haven’t been able to find anyone yet that has the answers or ask the questions to the right people. This was a very positive meeting today. I’m very pleased,” she said.
She hopes the forum will encourage more people to pay attention.
“I think we have all heard over the years when a positive Triple E is found, and as I told the senators earlier today, it’s kind of like the white noise in the back of my head that I never pay attention to – until it affected us,” Donna said. “It affected us, deeply. We don’t have any other choice now. We need to make sure that every person that lives in this area understands what Triple E can do to their family. We need to make sure that they understand there are simply things that they can do. And, they can use their voice and contact their local and state government to make sure that things are put into place that will help them protect their families.”
She added that she hopes there are more follow-up meetings, to keep the momentum moving forward on the issue.
“I just want the public to be aware, that’s the biggest thing. We have things right here that maybe we haven’t thought about in decades that we do projects around the house or around the county … roadwork and things like that. And it creates problems, but you haven’t really thought about it. People really need to stand back a step and just do something as simple as tipping the dog’s water dish over at night so that mosquitoes don’t lay eggs in it. It can make a huge difference. We need to do that for all of the wetland areas around us as well. Simple things tat we can do in addition to other steps that maybe are more state mandated. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
“If my presence here helps get someone to spray their child (with insect repellant), to take heed and listen to what is going on and to protect one person, then it’s worth me coming here,” said Julie Wilcox, Maggie’s mother. “I don’t want my daughter to have died and nothing positive come out of it. So that’s why I am here. People … if they see my tears and it makes them do something, than that is worth it to me.”
About one in three people who get Eastern Equine Encephalitis die from it. Including this one, only four cases of (human) have been reported in New York State since 1971. All four people died.
EEE is always a summertime threat in Oswego County, given its large, swampy areas. This year, the county announced finding EEE in two mosquito pools and, as it announced the news of the girl’s illness, it also said that a horse had died from the disease.
The virus has turned up in neighboring Oneida and Madison counties as well this year.
EEE is spread by mosquitoes. Following the child’s death, Oswego County approved spraying by airplane to kill the mosquitoes.
Oswego County Public Health Director Dr. Dennis Norfleet said this summer that aerial spraying is a partial and temporary measure in controlling the population of mosquitoes which could carry EEE.
“Aerial spraying will reduce the numbers of mosquitoes testing positive for EEE for about one week,” he said. “Spraying will not erase the virus from the environment, and it will not eliminate the need for people to protect themselves with preventive measures. Evidence from previous years shows that humans contracted the EEE virus after spraying had taken place in Central New York.”
The best way for people to protect themselves from EEE is to protect against mosquito bites.
- Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin and clothing. Always follow label directions.
- Wear shoes, socks, long pants with bottoms tucked into boots or socks, and a long sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time and at dawn and dusk.
- Repair or replace broken screens in doors and windows.
- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from containers. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used.