RAYNHAM, Mass. (WPRI) — On Monday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported a third resident had died from eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) of the 10 confirmed cases in the state so far this year.
The threat of EEE has been described as widespread and dangerous. Officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island—which has had three confirmed cases and one death—say they’re doing what they can to help lower the risk of mosquito-borne diseases but also urged residents to take steps on their own to prevent being bitten.
Terri Newfield is also working to educate others about the risk of EEE and for her, it’s personal. In 2011, her Uncle Martin Newfield died after contracting the virus. The 80-year-old was well-known in the Raynham youth sports community.
“We did not expect him to be bitten by a mosquito and eventually have his life taken from that,” she said. “It was just…unexpected.”
Since her uncle’s death, Newfield has been sharing her story in hopes of highlighting the importance of protecting against mosquito bites. Whether it’s carrying bug spray or taking precautions around your home, she’s encouraging people to take those extra steps.
“I think standing water is a big thing,” she said. “People don’t think mosquitoes can breed as quickly and rapid.”
In addition to removing standing water from outside your home, officials say you should wear long sleeves and long pants, use insect repellent containing DEET and when possible, avoid the outdoors between dusk and dawn.
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The threat of EEE typically lasts until the first hard frost, which usually arrives in mid- to late October in Southern New England.
For Newfield’s family, hearing about the human cases this summer has been tough but she’s hoping her Uncle Martin’s story can help save others.
“It was very sudden,” she said. “One day we’re enjoying his company, he just gathered some patio furniture ahead of an expected storm, and then he had gotten sick shortly after, just a few days after.”