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Eastern Equine Encephalitis Claims Life of Everett Woman

September 28, 2006

State health officials announced on Sept. 25 that a 58-year-old Everett woman had died from eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), a rare but serious disease that is spread to people by infected mosquitoes.

Health authorities believe the woman may have been infected with the disease at Nantasket Beach in Hull, where she spent Labor Day Weekend. Local mosquito experts are also exploring the wetlands that surround Everett for evidence of EEE-infected mosquitoes.

The woman is the second Massachusetts resident to die from EEE this year.  A 9-year-old Middleborough boy infected with the virus died on Aug. 21.  In addition, a 73-year-old Fairhaven man, a 53-year-old Lakeville woman, and a 23-year-old Acushnet man were hospitalized with EEE this summer, and are now recovering.
As of September 27, EEE had been detected in mosquitoes in 40 Massachusetts communities:  Amesbury, Barnstable, Berkley, Boxford, Bridgewater, Brockton, Brookline, Canton, Carver, Cohasset, Dartmouth, Dennis, East Bridgewater, Easton, Freetown, Halifax, Hanover, Haverhill, Hingham, Holbrook, Kingston, Lakeville, Mansfield, Mattapoisett, Merrimac, Methuen, Middleborough, New Bedford, Pembroke, Plympton, Randolph, Raynham, Rehoboth, Rochester, Rockland, Scituate, Taunton, Walpole, Westport, and Weymouth.

The infected mosquitoes in Brookline were collected on Aug. 4.  The mosquitoes were culex pipiens, a species that prefers to bite birds and small mammals, but also may bite people.  The presence of EEE in Brookline mosquitoes is unusual, but not unprecedented.  Isolated samples of mosquitoes were detected in 2000 and 2001, and did not lead to any human infections.  The East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project and the Suffolk Country Mosquito Control Project have intensified their mosquito monitoring and control efforts in the area, in collaboration with the Brookline Health Department and the Boston Public Health Commission.

Eastern equine encephalitis has no cure, and about 30 percent of people who become infected with the EEE virus die from it.  Symptoms range from high fever, stiff neck, headache, and lack of energy to inflammation of the brain and coma. Remember, the greatest risk of infection from mosquito-borne disease is during late summer and fall (until the first frost). In Massachusetts, the first frost usually occurs in early or mid-October.

What You Can Do
You can protect yourself from eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus this fall by avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes. Here are some suggestions.

Make your home and yard safe:

  1. Prevent mosquitoes from entering your home by making sure your window and door screens are in good repair and are tightly attached.
  2. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water. Reduce mosquito breeding places in your yard by emptying, covering, or treating any items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty unused flower pots and buckets. Change the water in wading pools and birdbaths once a week.
  3. When you can’t get rid of standing water by sweeping or other methods, please report the address or approximate location of the puddle or still water source to the appropriate city department:

Private property: Cambridge Public Health Department, 617-665-3826
Public property: (roads, parks):  Cambridge Dept. of Public Works, 617-349-4800
Construction sites: Cambridge Inspectional Services, 617-349-6100

Protect yourself and your family

  1. Be aware that mosquitoes in urban environments are most active in the early evening and nighttime.
  2. Consider wearing long-sleeve shirts, loose pants, and socks if you spend time outdoors during peak mosquito biting times. Mosquito species found in Cambridge are most active in the early evening and nighttime.
  3. If you are outdoors during peak mosquito biting times, apply a thin coat of insect repellant containing DEET or Picaridin to clothing and exposed skin.   Read the instructions on the label carefully before using the product.
  4. Adults and children (age two and older) should use repellant with 25% to 30% DEET. Repellants with DEET should never be used on children under age two. After returning indoors, wash off repellent with soap and water.
  5. Alternatives to DEET include Picaridin (a chemical repellent), oil of lemon eucalyptus (a plant-based repellent), and 2% soybean oil. All have been found to provide good protection, though the natural oils are somewhat less effective and may need to be applied more often. 
  6. If a child develops a rash or other apparent allergic reaction from an insect repellent, stop using the repellent, wash it off with mild soap and water and call a local poison control center for further guidance.  For more information about insect repellent safety, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.
  7. Cover your baby stroller or outdoor playpen with netting.

How to report a dead bird

  1. To report a dead bird on public property, call Cambridge Animal Control, 349-4376 (days), or Cambridge Department of Public Works, 349-4800 (nights/weekends).
  2. A dead bird found on private property should be disposed of by the owner or management. Rubber gloves should be worn when handling bird carcasses.

For more information, please call the Environmental Health Unit at the Cambridge Public Health Department, 617-665-3838.


Suzy Feinberg, MPH
Public Information Officer

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