Published September 19, 2012 in the Rutland Herald
A Health Department flyer warns of health risks spread by mosquitoes.
Photo: Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Sudbury man dies from EEE
The first man in Vermont to contract the deadly eastern equine encephalitis, Scott Sgorbati of Sudbury, died Tuesday morning, according to the Vermont Health Department.
He was 49.
Sgorbati's death marks the second fatality in Vermont attributed to EEE, a rare virus contracted from the bite of an infected mosquito that affects only about six Americans a year. Health Commissioner Harry Chen expressed his condolences to the man's family in a press release issued Tuesday evening.
The second man to contract EEE in Vermont, Richard Hollis Breen, 87, of Brandon, died Sept. 4 after contracting the virus five days earlier. One out of every three people who get EEE dies from it and survivors typically have severe brain damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“I know this (the death) will raise the level of concern Vermonters have about possible exposure to EEE. I want to remind Vermonters that this is a very rare virus. On average there are only six cases nationwide each year. It can lead to life-threatening illness for about a third of all people infected. So while exposure is extremely rare, it is a very serious illness,” Chen said in the release.
The first confirmed animal death from EEE in Vermont was late last summer, when 19 emus died on Breen's farm in Brandon and tested positive for EEE.
Prior to that, Vermont did not have any documented cases of EEE in either animal or human populations.
The virus is carried by perching songbirds, or passerines, which includes 8,000 or more species — more than half of all bird species in the world, according to various academic sources and definitions.
The passerines are the “amplifying host” of EEE, meaning that the virus can be concentrated enough in the birds that the bite of mosquitoes that feed on them becomes infectious, according to Erica Berl, infectious disease epidemiologist with the state health department.
In some cases, the infected mosquitoes bite emus, horses and other farm animals.
Two aerial sprayings of pesticides were done in Brandon and Whiting earlier this month that, according to the state health and agriculture departments, killed half of the mosquito population in those areas.
Chen continues to advise all Vermonters to protect themselves from any remaining risks posed by EEE and West Nile virus by limiting the amount of time spent outdoors at dawn and dusk, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants outside when mosquitoes are active, using insect repellents labeled as being effective against mosquitoes, and removing standing water around your house.
“I want to remind you that this is a very rare disease. Having two Vermonters die from EEE is tragic and, I am sure, difficult for family members to understand,” Chen said in the release.
Chen said so far this year there have been five cases of EEE in Massachusetts. He said he didn't know the national statistics.
Why are people in Vermont getting the virus?
“It's an unpredictable disease and it can pop up on you and not be present in other areas,” Chen said. “It's obviously a significant increase this year” (given the average, to date, of only six people contracting the virus annually across the nation).
Chen was hesitant to point to climate change as the reason for the spread of the virus among mosquitoes, saying it was not his expertise.
“I would leave that up to the entomologists,” Chen said.
According to the Miller & Ketcham Funeral Home in Brandon, a public visitation will be held Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home located at 26 Franklin St.