A second person in Connecticut has died from Eastern equine encephalitis, a virus passed on from mosquitos, said state officials Tuesday.
According to the state Department of Public Health, the victim was an adult resident of Old Lyme who became ill during the second week of September and later tested positive for the rare mosquito-borne illness.
“This is a serious public health concern and we wanted to let you know these are the first deaths from EEE that have been reported here in our state since 2013,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. “People across our state are obviously concerned about this, as are we, but the most important thing that we want people to know is that they shouldn’t panic.”
This comes less than a week after DPH announced that an East Lyme resident who became the state’s first human case this year had died. Officials said both residents were likely infected during peak activity of mosquito season at the end of summer.
State environmental experts say this has been one of the worst EEE occurrences in the Northeast region in decades.
Deaths have occurred in several states including Massachusetts, where a third person has recently died from the virus, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
In Connecticut, mosquitoes that carry the virus have been mostly concentrated in the southeastern part of the state. But environmental experts confirmed Tuesday that a mosquito has also tested positive for EEE in South Windsor, which is west of the Connecticut River and an area of the state that has not before seen the virus.
“What we’re experiencing this year really is remarkable. We have never seen this much activity at this high a level over such a wide geographic region, and so it is quite unusual,” said Theodore Andreadis, director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
The EEE virus is still considered rare, and not as common as the West Nile virus, but it can develop into a serious medical condition.
Speaking on Connecticut Public Radio's Where We Live, Dr. Richard Martinello, of Yale New Haven Health, said many people who are infected by EEE may never know they even had the virus.
“They may have a very mild illness or one that doesn't even come to their attention,” he said. “But for a small percent of people who get infected with this virus, they could have a very serious infection of their brain.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 4 to 5% of human infections result in a serious illness from the virus.
“Typically, it leads to some permanent loss in their cognitive abilities and it can also lead to other problems with their motor functions,” Martinello said.
The good news, Andreadis said, is that the number of mosquitoes, including EEE infected mosquitoes, is dropping rapidly as the weather gets colder. He said the first hard frost sometime this fall should kill remaining mosquitoes and the viruses they carry.
“As we look forward to next year, I would anticipate that yes, we probably will see some activity, but it’s not likely we’ll see as much as we did this year,” Andreadis said.
Meanwhile, public health officials are urging residents to limit their time outdoors from dusk through dawn, to use insect repellant and wear protective clothing to decrease their chances of getting bitten by an infected mosquito.
Several school districts in southeastern Connecticut are taking precautions to protect student athletes participating in fall sports from EEE infection, said Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools.
“We have had a few communities, about 10 to 12 in the areas where this would be a primary concern, (that) have adjusted their athletic schedules for practices and games to complete those activities earlier,” Lungarini said Tuesday on Where We Live.
Anyone who thinks they may be infected should see medical care.