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Eastern equine encephalitis risk rises

By Chelsea Conaboy
Globe Staff / August 25, 2011

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The risk of humans being infected with Eastern equine encephalitis by mosquitoes is high in several Southeastern Massachusetts towns and is generally on the rise across that part of the state, the state Department of Public Health said yesterday.

The virus has been found in mosquitoes that bite mammals, including humans, in Carver, Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, and Raynham. The risk is also listed as high for Easton.

This is the time of year when human cases of the disease have historically occurred, state epidemiologist Dr. Alfred DeMaria said in a press release. Last year, one person in Massachusetts was confirmed to have the disease, and one was suspected to have it in Rhode Island.

The virus is typically spread to humans by an infected mosquito. Symptoms, which include high fever, confusion, headache, stiff neck, and a lack of energy, can progress quickly and lead to swelling of the brain and even death.

“Finding mammal-biting mosquitoes infected with [the disease] is of great concern to us,’’ DeMaria said. “Earlier in the season, all of our infected mosquitoes were the bird-biting kind, which are less likely to spread disease to people.’’

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com.