A Metrowest man has died of Eastern equine encephalitis, marking the state’s first fatality from the mosquito-borne virus this year.
State officials said Thursday that the man, who was not identified, lived in Worcester County and was in his 70s. He died several days after being admitted to the hospital in early August. An autopsy confirmed that he had the disease, which can cause swelling of the brain.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to this individual’s family and friends,” said John Auerbach, commissioner of the Department of Public Health. “His illness and death underscore the extremely serious nature of EEE and the need for continued vigilance and preventive measures against mosquito-borne diseases.”
The man is the second person confirmed to have contracted the disease in the state this year. The first was a Middlesex County man who probably contracted it while traveling out of state and became sick in late July. He was hospitalized and released. Last year, Martin Newfield of Raynham died of the disease.
Mosquitoes infected with both EEE and West Nile virus, which is usually less serious than EEE but can be dangerous for older people, appeared earlier than usual this year in state testing and have been found in more communities than usual, said Kevin Cranston, director of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease. The elevated risk has put local health officials on alert and prompted the state to conduct two rounds of aerial spraying to control the mosquito population in Southeastern Massachusetts, where insects carrying the viruses are most often detected.
A Vermont man died this week of EEE and another has been hospitalized, as officials there prepared to conduct aerial spraying.
“This is a completely unusual year,” Cranston said.
Nine Massachusetts people have been reported to have contracted West Nile virus, including a Middlesex County woman in her 30s announced Wednesday. Nationally, there have been an unprecedented number of West Nile cases, with 1,993 infections and 87 deaths reported as of Tuesday.
EEE was also confirmed Thursday in a horse in Belchertown, in Hampshire County. The virus historically has not been prevalent in Western Massachusetts, but monitoring for it began only recently in some places.
“It seems to come out of nowhere, in some regards, because some of those towns have only had mosquito trapping and testing for two years,” Cranston said.
In other states, there are testing records that go back decades.
The risk level in Belchertown was raised to critical. It has been listed as high in the nearby communities of Amherst, Palmer, Pelham, New Salem, and Ware. The state Department of Public Health posts a map on its website, updated daily, of town risk levels.
Communities in which the risk level is high are encouraged by the state to curtail evening events, though that decision is made by local officials.
Cranston urged the public to follow good practices for preventing bites, including wearing protective clothing and insect repellent and avoiding outdoor activity between dusk and dawn, if possible.
Removing standing water, such as in bird baths, from around homes can eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.