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2 more Mass. residents diagnosed with West Nile virus

The weather may be cooling off but state public health officials are warning that mosquito-borne illnesses remain a threat, after two more Massachusetts residents were diagnosed with West Nile virus. Six people in the state have been diagnosed with the illness so far this year.

The state Department of Public Health said Friday that a Middlesex County woman in her 50s and an Essex County woman in her 70s were both recently infected. They said the older woman was hospitalized but has since shown significant improvement. The agency said the younger woman didn’t need to be hospitalized.

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Disease trackers said they believe both patients were probably infected in their home counties. The risk for being infected in those counties is considered to be moderate.

“Even as cooler temperatures begin arriving in the state, the fact is that the threat of mosquito-borne illness will continue until the first hard overnight frost,” state public health veterinarian Dr. Catherine Brown said in a statement.

“In the meantime, it’s vitally important that we continue taking common-sense precautions against mosquito bites,” Brown said. “Use insect repellant, cover up, and avoid outdoor activities at dusk and after nightfall when mosquitoes are at their most active.”

Last year, 33 cases of West Nile virus were detected in Massachusetts residents. While the virus can infect people of all ages, people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease. Symptoms include fever and flu-like illness. In rare cases, more severe illness can occur.

West Nile is the less dangerous of two mosquito-borne viruses that are now a common marker of summer’s end for Massachusetts residents. The state in late August announced that a Norfolk County woman in her 80s died of Eastern equine encephalitis, which last year killed three people in Massachusetts.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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