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Third person dies of mosquito-borne EEE virus in Massachusetts

A third person has died of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in Massachusetts, health officials said Tuesday. 

The state is one of the hardest hit by the typically rare, mosquito-borne disease, with 10 confirmed cases and warnings that risk of exposure is critical in 36 communities. 

With three out of those 10 cases ended in fatalities, Massachusetts is on track to meet the estimate that EEE kills one in three people who develop brain swelling after being bitten by an infected insect. 

The virus has been unusually active this year in the US, driven by suburban sprawl and unusually high temperatures, particularly in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida and Rhode Island.  

A third resident of Massachusetts has died after contracting Eastern equine encephalitis, the typically rare but life-threatening mosquito-borne illness that’s been unusually active this year 

The only information released about the latest victim thus far is that he or she lived in Hampden County, in the South Central area of the state.  

Another two American victims were recently identified by their families. 

James Longworth, 78, of Massachusetts died of the viral infection, as did Patricia Shaw, 77, a Connecticut resident and the first death the sate has reported, according to a local NBC affiliate.  

A typical year sees just five to 10 cases of EEE in the US, but 2019 has been exceptional, with nearly as many deaths as expected cases, and dozens of patients in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Michigan.   

Although anyone can potentially contract the disease if bitten by a mosquito with the virus, it is most likely to turn life-threatening for older people. 

Young children and those with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable, too, but less likely to be spending time in the areas where EEE-infected mosquitoes thrive. 

Shaw was the first person to die of EEE in Connecticut and the second case overall in the state this year. 

Her community in Southeastern Connecticut remembers the 77-year-old as a ‘kind and gentle’ wife and mother, said Fr Brian Maxwell of Shaw’s church in East Lyme. 

No one had died of EEE in the state since 2013. 

And Longworth was the second person to die in Massachusetts this year, but the number of cases there has climbed to 10, health officials there said Friday. 

Cases are more common on the East Coast of the US, mostly concentrated in Florida.

EEE thrives in warm swampy areas where standing water provides plentiful food and a fertile breeding ground.

So mosquitoes proliferate in swampy Florida, bite the birds that spend their winters there, which then migrate back to New England, where native mosquitoes bite them, contract the virus, then bite humans (and other animals).

It’s not just that there are more mosquitoes. As property becomes more scarce, people move into previously uninhabited areas, including the swampy ones where EEE mosquitoes and birds live.  

The family of Patricia Shaw confirmed that she died at 77 after contracting EEE, a rare mosquito-borne viral infection. She was the first to die in Connecticut amid a slew of cases

Grandfather and carpenter, James Longworth, died of EEE in Massachusetts at age 78, his family said

Grandfather and carpenter, James Longworth, died of EEE in Massachusetts at age 78, his family said 

‘In the upland swamp areas’ – like parts of Massachusetts – there’s more development in those areas, people are living closer to those wilder areas,’ Dr Thomas Unnasch, a University of South Florida professor of infectious diseases and expert on EEE, told in a recent interview. 

‘I’m a great example. Here in Florida, I live next to a nature conservancy. It’s just beautiful. And it’s a beautiful habitat for EEE – and I paid extra money to live next to that!

And as more parts of the US stay warmer for longer into the year, more of the virus circulates as well. 

The result has been an unprecedented number of horse and human cases of the disease in the US this year. 

The affected states have been spraying insecticide regularly and warning residents to wear DEET insect repellent and watch for signs and symptoms of the infection. 

Symptoms are, at first, like those of flu: high fever, headache, fatigue and nausea or vomiting, usually appearing between four and 10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

But they can progress to loss of appetite, diarrhea, neck stiffness and dangerous brain-swelling. 

Once the infection reaches the brain, the resulting swelling – encephalitis – can be life threatening, killing up to a third of patients that reach this stage. 

And doctors are relatively helpless to treat it.  

Once the infection reaches the brain, the resulting swelling – encephalitis – can be life threatening, killing up to a third of patients that reach this stage.

And doctors are relatively helpless to treat it.

In a hospital setting, patients may be placed on life support and given IV fluids, but antibiotics are useless against viruses, and scientists have yet to discover an anti-viral therapy.

In Michigan, where eight people have contracted EEE, Gregg McChesney became the third in the state to die of the virus – after just a nine-day battle with the illness. 

Earlier this month, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts – which has seen more cases than any other state in the US this year – plead with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to share any research they have on similar viruses, in the hopes this might provide clues to possible EEE treatments.