One of summer’s nuisances has turned into something deadly serious, and even those who consider themselves too tough or ornery to apply insect repellent should think again before wandering outside at dusk unprotected.

Health officials in Massachusetts have discovered at least 340 mosquitoes testing positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, according to the latest reports. Four animals have tested positive for the virus, including a horse in Methuen that died last week.

Four human cases have been detected, including Laurie Sylvia, 59, of Fairhaven, whom family members identified as having contracted the virus. A mother and grandmother, Sylvia reportedly fell ill on Monday of last week and died with complications from the virus five days later.

The EEE virus is no joke. Though odds are fairly small of a person being bitten by an infected mosquito and then developing a severe reaction to the virus, according to health officials, the stakes are too high to ignore the risks. At its worst, the virus leads to an inflammation of the brain for which there is no treatment. And, to be sure, the chances of being exposed are far greater in those places where mosquitoes have been found to have it.

State health officials in Massachusetts already have elevated the risk level in Methuen to “critical,” while the levels of neighboring communities are either considered “moderate” or “high.” Just over the border in New Hampshire, health officials have detected mosquitoes carrying the EEE virus in Pelham.

All of which means that people in those areas, and really throughout the north of Boston region, should take care to avoid exposure to mosquitoes. That means wearing insect repellent and long-sleeved shirts and pants. Better yet, avoid being outdoors during the dawn and dusk hours when mosquitoes are especially active.

Communities with positive tests are doing their part by rescheduling or canceling outdoor events during those times. Regional mosquito control districts are stepping up spraying. But it’s also up to everyone, particularly those caring for children and older people, to play it safe.

For more on EEE and where it’s been detected in Massachusetts visit www.mosquitoresults.com.

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