Raynham civic leader dies from EEE
Eastern equine encephalitis yesterday claimed the life of an 80-year-old Raynham civic leader, former businessman, and football referee, prompting frustration among his family and town officials over the state’s reluctance to combat mosquitoes by aerially spraying insecticide.
Martin Newfield died of the mosquito-borne virus known as EEE, nine days after first complaining of headaches and slight nausea, said his stepdaughter, Kara Fahey-Riel.
The state Department of Public Health disclosed Friday that a Raynham man had been hospitalized and diagnosed with the state’s first EEE case of the year.
Department spokeswoman Julia Hurley said yesterday that the state could not confirm or deny that patient’s identity or outcome, partly because of confidentiality and partly because it does not immediately track EEE patient outcomes.
“What has impact on the public safety or health is the [initial] transmission of the disease and making sure that people are aware of that,’’ she said.
Newfield, the retired owner of a local insurance agency as well as the founder of an oil-change business, had been active on a host of local and regional boards and commissions and was a member of the Raynham Board of Appeals at the time of his death. The 2003 winner of the town’s Citizen of the Year award, he was also a longtime youth and interscholastic football referee and continued to officiate into his late 70s. “He was a healthy, healthy 80,’’ Fahey-Riel said.
“We’re just very aggravated . . . the Department of Public Health does not find it necessary to spray, and we just hope that more lives will not be lost,’’ she said.
The chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, which doubles as the Board of Health, criticized the state for aerially spraying to control the mosquito population just once in the past five summers, in 2010.
“I’ve been very disappointed,’’ said the chairman, Joseph Pacheco, calling state officials out of touch with the needs of Southeastern Massachusetts. “This is something that we deal with every single year in Massachusetts. It’s not something that should catch any of us off guard.’’
The state conducted ground-based spraying in Raynham on Thursday. But Hurley could not comment on how or when the state decides to perform aerial spraying beyond a statement she gave Friday: “We’re not ‘resistant’ to spraying, as last year’s activities indicate. We have not deemed aerial spraying to be necessary thus far this summer.’’
EEE is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms, which include high fever, confusion, headache, stiff neck, and lack of energy, can progress quickly and lead to swelling of the brain and death. Nearly half of all infections are fatal, while about 80 percent of survivors suffer significant neurological damage, the state’s top disease tracker told the Globe last week.
Newfield complained of some symptoms just days after the state warned of an elevated EEE risk in Raynham and surrounding towns. The next day he checked into a Taunton hospital but was released the same day with what doctors thought was an ordinary virus, Fahey-Riel said.
After Newfield’s symptoms worsened, he returned to Morton Hospital the next day, Aug. 29, and was transferred early the following morning to Brighton’s St. Elizabeth Medical Center, where he died yesterday. His wife, Jean, was at his bedside throughout the ordeal, as were many relatives and friends, Fahey-Riel said. “It was just so horrible watching him go into a coma and slip away,’’ she said.
Newfield left four children, four stepchildren, and 13 grandchildren.
Pacheco, the selectman, also called Newfield’s death a substantial loss to Raynham.
“He’s been somebody who’s been actively involved in the community for as long as I’ve been alive,’’ said Pacheco. “He’s probably one of the classiest people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with.’’
Newfield’s death appeared to be the first human fatality attributed to EEE contracted in Massachusetts since 2006. In 2008, a 73-year-old Essex County man died of EEE after being bitten by mosquitoes while vacationing in northern New England.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.