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Massachusetts 5-year-old, woman in her 60s are latest confirmed cases of potentially fatal EEE virus


Lab tests confirmed two more cases of the potentially fatal Eastern Equine Encephalitis infection in a 5-year-old Massachusetts girl and a woman in her 60s.

Officials with the Massachusetts Department of Health on Friday confirmed the total number of human cases of the rare EEE virus in the state has climbed to seven.

The 5-year-old, a Middlesex County resident, was being treated in a local hospital and was in critical condition Saturday afternoon. The older patient also lives in Middlesex County, according to a health department press release. Her condition is unknown at this time.

Public health officials told WCVB they believe both people were infected before aerial spraying was conducted in their neighborhoods.

The spread of the virus prompted raised risk levels in several Massachusetts communities, including Farmingham, Marlborough, Northborough and Sudbury.

Overall, the disease has put 36 communities across the state at a critical risk level, 42 at high risk and 114 at moderate risk.

There have additionally been nine cases confirmed in animals this year, including in eight horses and a goat. Evidence of the virus has also been found in more than 400 mosquito samples throughout 2019.

“Even though temperatures have cooled off, it is not unusual to see human EEE cases confirmed in September,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement.

“This is why we continue to take steps to avoid being bitten.”

The EEE virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and can affect people of all ages – though it more typically affects animals like horses and birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection can cause inflammation in the brain in humans and those who recover are often left with debilitating neurological complications.

There is no known cure, but there are treatment options to manage symptoms.

Those under the age of 15 and over the age of 50 are at the highest risk of infection – though health officials have encouraged everyone to guard against mosquitoes with the use of some bug spray.

According to Boston Children’s Hospital, symptoms of EEE typically manifests within 10 days of a person getting bitten by an infected mosquito. They include high fever, headaches, tiredness, neck stiffness nausea and vomiting. Other more serious symptoms include seizures, confusion or disorientation and a coma.