The Vermont Health Department is launching a research study this month into Eastern Equine Encephalitis – also referred to as "triple E" – a rare disease.
Health officials are asking for volunteers from three towns near where the mosquito-borne disease killed two people last year.
The study will test how many volunteers from Brandon, Sudbury and Whiting are infected with the virus that causes EEE, but have not gotten seriously ill. The blood tests would detect antibodies to the virus.
Erica Berl is an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Health Department.
"We don’t actually know for this virus whether people can get infected but just not get sick, or not sick enough to seek medical care," Berl says. And so the purpose of this study is to actually look for people who would have been exposed to the virus and just not know it."
Health officials hope the study will help to determine whether the EEE infection is actually common, but the illness is rare, or whether both infection and illness are rare.
Berl describes EEE as a focal disease that is most commonly found within a few miles of a hardwood acidic swamp, such as that in the Brandon, Sudbury and Whiting area.
"So from that point of view," Berl says, "it’s not completely unexpected that if we were going to have EEE in the state, that that’s where we would find it."
Berl says Eastern Equine Encephalitis is still an extremely rare disease. In the last 50 years, fewer than 300 cases have been documented in the U.S.