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'One-Third Who Contract It Die,' Plymouth County Official Warns Everyone To Take EEE Seriously

BOSTON (CBS) - Mosquito spraying is underway in more than two dozen communities in Massachusetts. Public health officials are hoping to prevent EEE, a mosquito-born illness that can be deadly, or cause serious health problems.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis is rare but it can affect people of all ages.

In 2019, there were 12 human cases and six deaths. The first human case this year was in Plymouth County, but mosquitoes have tested positive in Franklin, Middlesex and Norfolk counties.

Cathy Drinen, the commissioner of Plymouth County Mosquito Control, says residents in southeastern Massachusetts should take precautions.

"One-third of the people who contract it will die from it," she told WBZ-TV. "Those who survive often end up with such serious neurological problems that the rest of their life may be in a nursing home."

Despite the warnings, Drinen says some still perceive the risk as small and that could be deadly.

"If they aren't seeing mosquitoes, if they aren't getting mosquito bites and the story hasn't touched their lives personally, I think they may not appreciate how deadly it is," she said.

On Monday, The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that the risk level for EEE in Bridgewater and Halifax in Plymouth County has been raised from moderate to high. Those two communities join six others at high to critical risk of the illness.

The 25 communities in the spray zone are Bridgewater, Carver, Duxbury, East Bridgewater, Halifax, Hanover, Hanson, Kingston, Lakeville, Marion, Mattapoisett, Middleborough, Norwell, Pembroke, Plymouth, Plympton, Rochester, Rockland, Wareham, West Bridgewater, and Whitman in Plymouth County, and Acushnet, Easton, Raynham, and Taunton in Bristol County. The final spray map is available online.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Experts say use mosquito repellent any time you're outside. Those in high and critical risk communities are urged to adjust outdoor activity to avoid the dusk to dawn hours to reduce exposure to the mosquitoes most likely to spread EEE.

Information about current mosquito activity will continue to be updated regularly and can be found here.

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