Massachusetts Woman Dies of Rare Mosquito-Borne Illness, 4th Person Infected in August

A Massachusetts woman has died of a rare mosquito-borne illness — eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE — becoming the fourth person in the state to contract the disease in August.

Laurie Sylvia, 59, died Sunday, just six days after she started feeling sick. Her husband of 40 years, Robert Sylvia, Jr., said that she started experiencing symptoms on Aug. 19 and went to the hospital, where her condition deteriorated until her death. Medical examiners are currently conducting an autopsy to confirm EEE as her cause of death.

EEE is very rare, with an average of seven cases nationwide each year, primarily in Massachusetts, Florida, New York and North Carolina. The Centers for Disease Control says that people over 50 and under 15 years old are more susceptible to the illness, which abruptly starts to show symptoms after four to ten days.

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Those infected will develop chills, fever, lethargy and joint pain. If the disease does not reach the central nervous system, those affected can recover fully. But one-third of patients die from EEE, and others who develop problems in the nervous system are likely to be mentally and physically disabled. There is no vaccine for the disease.

Sylvia leaves behind children and grandchildren, including her daughter Jen, who wrote a “goodbye to my best friend” on Facebook in honor of her mother.

“My mum was my favorite person in the world. She brought light and joy to everyone she came across,” Jen said. “She would be there for anyone at any time. Her smile was contagious. Her jokes were priceless. She was the life of the party. She knew how to have fun and taught me how important it was to love with all you’ve got and live life to the fullest … I just don’t understand how such a beautiful person could be taken from me so soon. I wasn’t done.”

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All four of the Massachusetts cases of EEE occurred in Bristol County, though the disease has been detected in 330 mosquito samples across the state, NBC Boston reported. Sylvia was a realtor and did business in several counties, her husband said, so he was unsure of where she contracted the disease.

Massachusetts is conducting aerial mosquito spraying across the state to protect residents.