A rare, sometimes fatal, mosquito-borne viral infection has resurfaced in Massachusetts – and probably sent at least one man into a coma. Over the weekend, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced that a local resident had contracted the Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEE). Dozens of communities have a critical or high risk of contracting the virus, and residents are advised to stay indoors at night.
Massachusetts health officials did not name the victim, although they noted that he was a resident of Plymouth County over 60 years old. The WCVB 5 reported on Tuesday that a woman claiming to be this man's girl in a Facebook post had said she had fallen into a coma as a result. This is the first confirmed human case of EEE reported since 2013.
"Today's news reflects the significant risk posed by EEE and we are asking residents to take this risk very seriously," Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement released on Saturday. "We will continue to monitor this situation and the affected communities."
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As we have already written, IAS is an infrequent but potentially devastating threat to people. The natural life cycle of the virus only affects mosquitoes and birds, and its main vector of mosquitoes tends to live far away from humans. But other mosquitoes living in humans can catch infected birds and then infect humans. Most human viral infections are not serious, but the rare attacks that reach the brain can quickly become fatal or cause lasting neurological symptoms. There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine against IAS.
The absolute risk for EEE remains very rare. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of seven cases of neurological infections caused by the virus, and six cases only in 2018. By comparison, the West Nile virus, the disease la more prevalent among mosquitoes in the United States, caused at least 1,600 similar cases in 2018.
But as long as people live near mosquitoes, EEE is a potential danger to anyone. The areas most exposed to IAS are along the east coast. In July, Florida health officials reported that the virus had been detected in chickens. On Monday, health officials in Connecticut announced that mosquitoes had recently been tested positive for EEE and West Nile.
In Massachusetts, health officials said nine communities pose a critical risk for IAS and another 15 are high risk. They then began aerial spraying in some of these areas over the weekend and recommended people to use "a mosquito repellent and consider staying indoors." from dusk to dawn to reduce mosquito exposure. "