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Duxbury woman has first case of encephalitis

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Sep. 2--A Duxbury woman in her 60s contracted Eastern equine encephalitis late last week, the first human case in Massachusetts this year, state public health officials said yesterday.

The woman, whom officials would not identify, was hospitalized in serious condition yesterday.

In response, state health officials said mosquito collection for testing was increased starting last night in Southeastern Massachusetts. Officials are also contacting hospitals in Bristol, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties to review how they should report suspected cases of encephalitis.

State health officials also used the case to remind residents that mosquito-borne viruses such as the possibly fatal encephalitis remain a threat well into September.

"People still have to take precautions against mosquitoes, especially this Labor Day weekend, when there's a lot of outdoor activity," said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, head of communicable disease control for the state Department of Public Health.

Precautions include applying bug repellent, covering arms and legs with clothing when outdoors, and avoiding stagnant pools of water, where mosquitoes breed and congregate.

Last year in Massachusetts, there were four human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, two of them fatal. This year the number of mosquitoes testing positive for the virus is running higher than in 2004, said DeMaria. "Duxbury, Kingston, and Pembroke have had a lot of EEE activity this summer in mosquitoes," he said.

Also, four horses in Haverhill and Wrentham have tested positive for the virus, said officials.

Initial symptoms include headaches, fever, and muscle soreness. About 35 percent of human cases are fatal, according to federal statistics. There have been about 200 confirmed cases in the United States since 1964. Massachusetts, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey have the most cases.

"Fortunately it's rare, but we can make it rarer if people can avoid mosquito exposure," said DeMaria.

People and animals tend to be bitten by infected mosquitoes in swampy and moist areas. State health officials said historically Bristol and Plymouth counties have been the center of the state's activity of this virus.

The Duxbury woman developed symptoms on Aug. 27. State health officials are trying to determine whether she contracted the virus near her home.

"We're not sure where she contracted the disease. Just because she lives here doesn't mean she contracted it here," said Jennifer M. Dalrymple, town health agent in Duxbury.

Regardless, she said that state mosquito control workers this week will spray the perimeter around where the woman lives.


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