Massachusetts Man Infected With EEE Virus Falls Into Coma As Mosquito Carrying Deadly Sleeping Sickness Virus Spreads

A Massachusetts man infected with Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) has reportedly fallen into a coma.

On Saturday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said lab tests had confirmed a case of EEE in a male over the age of 60 in southern Plymouth County. The case is the first in Massachusetts since 2013, according to the body.

Rochester woman Tess Hiller Hedblom claimed on Facebook that her father was in a coma after being diagnosed with EEE, describing the situation as "shocking and heartbreaking."

A spokesperson for Massachusetts Department of Public Health told Newsweek: the clinical outcome of the man's infection is not a public health matter and therefore not reportable to the body. "His clinical status is now a private medical issue," she said.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health officials responded by raising the risk level for EEE to critical in nine communities: Carver, Lakeville, Marion, Middleborough, Rochester and Wareham in Plymouth County and Acushnet, Freetown and New Bedford in Bristol County.

In a statement on Saturday, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel commented: "Today's news is evidence of the significant risk from EEE and we are asking residents to take this risk very seriously. We will continue to monitor this situation and the impacted communities."

Officials have undertaken aerial spraying to control mosquito populations in at-risk areas.

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A stock image of a mosquito. A man infected with Eastern equine encephalitis has fallen into a coma. Getty

Spread by infected mosquitoes, the condition is also known as sleeping sickness or Triple E. Between five to 10 cases of the rare condition are reported in the U.S. annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These usually occur during the late spring to fall in subtropical areas, such as the Gulf States.

The virus can cause a rare brain infection called encephalitis. Of those who catch the virus, around 30 percent die. Those that survive can suffer mild to severe brain damage. Once infected, it can take between four to 10 days for symptoms of EEE involving encephalitis (EEEV) to emerge. The condition is characterized by headache, chills, vomiting and a high fever. It can also make a person feel disoriented, as well as trigger seizures or a coma. An EEE infection can be diagnosed with a blood test.

Due to its route of transmission, anyone in an area where such mosquitoes live is at risk. EEE-carrying mosquitoes most often lurk in swampy areas, as they lay their eggs in or around water. Those who visit or live in woodland areas or spend a lot of time outdoors are most at risk of encountering the bugs.

To prevent mosquitoes from reproducing, the New York State Department of Health recommends removing vessels that can hold standing water, such as tin cans, from around the home; disposing of used tires; drilling holes in recycling containers left outdoors, and ensuring roof gutters drain properly. This advice also helps reduce infections from mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus and Zika.

This article has been updated with comment from a Massachusetts Department of Public Health.