Westborough EEE Death Keeps Alert High

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Westborough's alert level remains at highest level after confirmation of EEE death last month.
Westborough's alert level remains at highest level after confirmation of EEE death last month. Photo Credit: Mass. Department of Public Health

WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — State officials confirmed that a man in his 70s who lived in Southeast Westborough near the Hopkinton line died last month of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), causing the state to raise the threat level to high across Central Mass.  

Westborough is already at critical, the highest alert level possible, and all town officials can do is continue to advertise and educate about potential dangers, said Westborough director of public health Paul McNulty.

"The only thing I can tell people is that this case simply reinforces that they must take precautions," McNulty said. "I would say the risk is about the same, and it won't decrease until we get to about mid-October."

The man is reported to have contracted the illness in the first week of August, the time when Central Mass. Mosquito Control began spraying parts of the area for the virus, said Tim Deschamps, executive director at CMMCP. Where the man contracted the virus is still under investigtion by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This is the second known human case of EEE in Massachusetts this year.

"This is definitely the worst that we've seen the virus. ... with the human fatality this is the most serious situation we've been involved in in recent years," Deschamps said.

While EEE has not been found in Westborough since town-wide spraying began in Mid-August, cases of West Nile have been found in Westborough, Northbridge, Millbury, Auburn, Northborough and Shrewsbury.

West Nile infected mosquitoes have been found in 106 communities from nine counties so far during 2012, and health officials predict that the state is on track to have the greatest number of West Nile-positive mosquito pools since the virus was first seen in Massachusetts in 2000. There have been nine human cases of West Nile in Massachusetts prior to today’s announcement – six in Middlesex County, one in Hampden County and one in Berkshire County. There were six cases of WNV in Massachusetts residents and one in a horse last year.

Deschamps speculated the lack of a hard frost may have contributed to the high level of mosquitos. Deschamps said a human fatality adds more urgency to the mosquito situation.

"We're trying to determine if this year is just an abberation. ... we're going to be acting as diligently as possible to keep these mosquito numbers down," Deschamps said.  "It's very tragic news. Any sort of illness or death from any mosquito-borne virus is distressing to hear."

Westborough fields and events after dark will continue to be curtailed until the mosquito risk is lowered. Athletics fields in Westborough have been closed after dark, and tonight's installment of the Bay State Concert Series has been cancelled. 

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