State and public health officials warned that this season may be at a high risk for the spread of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) after a 7-month-old horse in Middleboro that died this week tested positive for the disease.

The state Department of Public Health announced Friday morning that the young horse developed symptoms of the disease Tuesday, deteriorated rapidly and was euthanized the next day.

Triple E is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Most people who contract the virus get only a mild flu-like illness or have no symptoms at all.

However, for people with infection of the central nervous system, a high fever and headache can be followed by seizures or coma, with about one-third such patients dying from the disease. Many of those that survive suffer from permanent brain damage.

The horse's death in Middleboro represents the first in the state since September 2009, according to the officials. There were 13 human cases, including six deaths, from 2004 through 2006.

“We are seeing early indicators that lead us to believe this may be a bad EEE year,” Department of Public Health State Epidemiologist Alfred DeMaria said.

"Evidence of EEE-infected mosquitoes and a horse with EEE this early in the season is similar to what we saw in 2006, and we had five human cases that year. We urge people to take this seriously and do what they need to do to protect themselves and their families."

The mosquitoes from Rochester and Mattapoisett that tested positive for the virus are the types that bite birds. But the horse’s death suggests that humans may be at a high risk of contracting the disease.