Massachusetts public health officials Thursday retracted a previous report that a fourth state resident had died from Eastern equine encephalitis, and confirmed the 12th human case of the mosquito-borne illness this year.
“Based on an incorrect report filed by a hospital,” the state Department of Public Health said in a statement, “DPH has been notified that the fourth death was improperly reported and the official death count remains at three people as of today.”
A hospital is not mandated to report a death, however, if the hospital voluntarily reports the death to the state public health agency, “it is considered an official report,” the department said. The hospital in question was not named in the statement.
The state’s 12th case of EEE this year was confirmed in a woman in her 70s from Hampden County. As of Thursday, the woman was hospitalized. Her case prompted the EEE risk level in the Western Massachusetts communities of Agawam, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Southwick, Springfield, West Springfield, and Westfield to be elevated to high risk.
Currently, there are 35 communities now at critical EEE risk, 53 at high risk, and 121 at moderate risk for the EEE virus in Massachusetts. Critical risk prompts the state to encourage that outdoor gatherings like organized sports events be canceled or rescheduled to avoid the peak mosquito hours from dusk until dawn. For high risk communities, the state also advises residents to adjust outdoor activity to avoid peak mosquito hours, and for people to avoid overnight camping, particularly near freshwater swamps.
EEE is a rare but potentially fatal disease that can cause brain inflammation and is transmitted to humans bitten by infected mosquitoes, according to federal authorities. Those who recover from it often live with severe and devastating neurological complications. There is no treatment.
“Although mosquito populations are declining, the weather is keeping them active,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown in a statement. “We continue to emphasize the need for people to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”
In Rhode Island, at least three people have been diagnosed with EEE this year, and one of them, a West Warwick resident, died earlier this month.