Spike in EEE cases may go unexplained due to federal lab regulations

Federal regulations on laboratories are complicating researchers' efforts to determine the cause of a major uptick in Eastern equine encephalitis this year, infectious disease experts told STAT.

HHS classifies EEE as a "select agent," meaning it poses a bioterror threat. Federal guidelines instruct state labs to destroy any samples where EEE is present within seven days.

This rule is hindering the World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arbovirus from obtaining EEE samples from this year's outbreak to place in its repository. The reference center, based at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has only received samples from one state this year, as the process is expensive and time-consuming.

"In the middle of an emergency situation, the last thing you want to do is worry about spending half your day to ship out a sample," Scott Weaver, PhD, a virologist and director of the WRCEVA, told STAT. "If the time window would be extended a little bit under these kinds of conditions, I think it would be more likely that they'd be able to help up."

This year, 37 human EEE cases occurred in nine states — the highest case count seen in more than 50 years.

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