A Deadly Mosquito-Borne Illness Is Brewing in the Northeast
EEE kills almost half of its victims, and cases are on the rise
In springtime, when the swamps behind the Mosman’s family home filled with fresh water, Keith, the eldest son, and Scott, his younger brother, would tramp barefoot through vernal pools in search of turtles, snakes, and frogs, returning hours later dotted with mosquito bites from the scourge that bred among the red maple tree roots. It was the 1970s, and Raynham, Massachusetts, where the Mosmans lived, was still a rural town. As the boys grew older, paddocks gave way to strip malls, apple orchards to housing developments. One year, their father filled the swamp in the backyard to build a swimming pool.
By the time Keith and Scott started their own families, the area was more or less a satellite suburb of Boston. But while the landscape of their childhood summers disappeared, the mosquitoes didn’t. They would still descend in June and not let up biting until the first frost in mid-fall. Keith and Scott both worked outside, so mosquitoes were just a fact of life during the intense, humid summers — a minor nuisance to be endured. Until last year.
On the first Friday of September 2019, Keith received an urgent call from Scott’s girlfriend. His brother had, without warning, collapsed on the floor in a violent seizure, foaming at the mouth. Paramedics had taken him to the ICU at Morton Hospital in Taunton, Massachusetts, where medical staff stabilized him but could not figure out what was causing his rapid deterioration.
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Two days later, Scott was transferred via helicopter to Rhode Island Hospital, where an MRI scan revealed inflammation of the brain. Doctors performed a spinal tap and sent the sample to a lab for testing. Around one week later, a specialist delivered the diagnosis: Scott had contracted the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus, which caused a severe brain infection. How had he caught such a devastating virus? A mosquito bite.