FAIRHAVEN (CBS) -- The first person to die of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in Massachusetts this year was a Fairhaven mother of three and real estate agent. Laurie Sylvia died at Tufts Medical Center, according to family and friends.
For 17 years, Sylvia sold real estate for the Pelletier firm of New Bedford.
"Not too many people like her come about in this lifetime. To have known her was a privilege, it's absolutely a shock and heartbreaking," said David Pelletier, who worked with Sylvia.
"EEE is real. It's not just something that happens in faraway places. It's here. People [need] to take the precautions necessary, you know, thinking that it couldn't happen to them but it could. It's tragic," Pelletier added.
Sylvia's diagnosis was the fourth in the state.
EEE symptoms can range from a stiff neck, headache, and lack of energy to dangerous complications like inflammation and swelling of the brain.
WBZ-TV's Dr. Mallika Marshall said, "Most people don't develop symptoms of EEE until four to ten days after they've been bitten by an infected mosquito and those symptoms often feel like the flu, headache, high fever, vomiting, chills, but then that can progress to disorientation and confusion seizures and coma."
The risk of EEE will remain until the first killing frost.
On Monday, a confirmed case of EEE in a horse in Methuen increased the town's risk level to critical. The town said the horse died Friday and later tested positive for the virus.
As a response, the town opened its emergency operations center and announced no evening activities are allowed on public property after 7 p.m.
WBZ-TV's Mike LaCrosse reports:
"I want you to know the reason we are taking this extremely seriously, and we're asking those communities that border us to please take it seriously," said Mayor James Jajuga.
Areas west of I-93 in Methuen will be sprayed for mosquitos starting Wednesday.
Nearby Andover and Lawrence are now at a high-risk level.
In total, 24 communities are at critical risk, 24 are at high risk and 55 are at moderate risk.
Aerial mosquito spraying the was scheduled to begin Sunday in Worcester and Middlesex counties was postponed due to weather. That will begin as soon as possible. For more information about what communities are being sprayed and when, visit the DPH website.
The health department recommends residents should make efforts to avoid mosquito bites, which can spread EEE, by using insect repellent, being aware of peak mosquito hours (dusk to dawn), wearing long sleeve shirts and pants when outside, drains standing water from around your home, repairing window screens and protecting your animals from mosquitos.
The DPH website also has more information about mosquito-borne diseases and their prevention.
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