EEE Spreads Nationwide as Virus Claims 2nd Life in Massachusetts

A 10th human case of EEE in Massachusetts has also become the state’s second fatality, the state Department of Public Health has announced.

A 10th human case of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in Massachusetts has also become the state’s second fatality, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) has announced.

A total of 35 Massachusetts communities are now considered at critical risk of the mosquito-borne virus, while 40 are at high risk, and 128 at moderate risk.

“We continue to emphasize the need for people to protect themselves from mosquito bites,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, said in a statement. “The unusually warm weather…will increase outdoor activity among people and mosquitoes. It is absolutely essential that people take steps to avoid being bitten by a mosquito.”

Within the state, 7 horses and 1 goat have tested positive for EEE so far this year. The virus has also been detected in 421 mosquito samples.

Without a specific antiviral treatment or vaccine to prevent infection, EEE proves fatal in 30% of cases, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Survivors often suffer ongoing neurological problems.

According to the Massachusetts DPH, EEE occurs periodically in the state, with the most recent outbreaks reported from 2004-2006 and 2010-2012. During those 2 outbreak periods, there were 22 total human cases of EEE infection.

EEE can affect different types of mosquitos, including those that prey on birds and those that prey on mammals.

“When [the] virus is found in mammal-biting mosquitoes, the risk for human disease increases because these mosquitoes are much more likely to bite people,” according to the DPH website. “Based on the positive findings this year, the fact that mosquito sampling indicates abundant numbers of mosquitoes, and that environmental conditions are optimal for continued mosquito breeding, a high risk of occurrence of human cases exists.”

Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources conducted aerial spraying for mosquitos in areas of Bristol and Plymouth counties over the weekend, and DPH urges residents to take precautions such as wearing long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors and using insect repellent.

Massachusetts isn’t the only state at risk; cases of EEE in humans have also been reported in Rhode Island, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Michigan, with at least 7 deaths reported so far in 2019, according to Forbes.