Deadly Cases Of EEE Virus Confirmed in Rhode Island, Massachusetts

The Rhode Island Health Department reported a death brought on by the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus Monday.

Officials said the Rhode Island resident — whose identity was not revealed to the public — was in their 50s, from West Warwick. The person died Sunday after contracting the virus near the end of August.

The victim's battle with the disease marks the first human case of EEE the state has seen since 2010— and its first deadly case since 2007.

EEE, an illness spread by mosquitoes, is extremely rare in humans. But if infected, a person can experience fever, chills, nausea and potentially brain swelling. Experts claim about 30 percent of those who contract the illness die within two to 10 days of showing symptoms — while those who survive may be live with lasting brain damage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the insects carrying the virus prey primarily on birds. "Transmission [of EEE] to humans requires mosquito species capable of creating a "bridge" between infected birds and uninfected mammals," the CDC explained.

In the U.S., EEE is endemic to freshwater hardwood swamps in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and the Great Lakes region, including Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, according to the CDC.

The Rhode Island announcement came days after two additional reported cases of the virus in Massachusetts brought the state's total to seven for the year. One person was confirmed dead.

"Even though temperatures have cooled off, it is not unusual to see human EEE cases confirmed in September," Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said in a statement. "This is why we continue to urge the public to take seriously the threat that mosquitoes can pose and to take steps to avoid being bitten."

Massachusetts senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren have responded to the situation by authoring a letter to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. The two are inquiring about the progress of federal research regarding EEE and "whether research into other viruses could help lead to better treatment for the mosquito-borne infection," the Associated Press reports.

In Michigan, Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services verified a death in connection with EEE Friday. The state has seen at least seven confirmed cases of the illness, according to local reports.

"We strongly encourage residents to take precautions such as using insect repellent with DEET, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors during the peak mosquito-biting hours which are dusk and dawn," said James Rutherford, Health Officer of Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department.

The last country-wide outbreak of EEE occurred between 2010 and 2012, with nearly 30 cases of the virus confirmed.

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A stock image of a mosquito sucking a man's blood. Mosquitos can carry the EEE virus, which spread to Rhode Island in September. Getty