SUDBURY — Family and friends of Scott Sgorbati are remembering the friendly, charismatic community member who died of Eastern equine encephalitis on Tuesday, as state health officials in the meantime remind people to take reasonable precautions to prevent spread of the mosquito-borne disease.
Sgorbati, a 49-year-old Sudbury resident and father of two sons, was hospitalized on Aug. 14 after contracting the mosquito-borne disease, and on Tuesday he succumbed.
He was the second Vermonter to be diagnosed with EEE, a viral infection that can cause severe neurologic disorder; 87-year-old Richard Breen of Brandon died Sept. 4.
State officials have sprayed pesticide in mosquito habitat in Whiting and Brandon, where mosquitoes infected with EEE have been found. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen tried to reassure the public.
“I want to remind Vermonters that this is a very rare virus. On average there are only six cases nationwide each year,” Chen wrote in a Tuesday press release. “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.”
People who are infected with EEE can develop two types of illness. One has a sudden onset and is characterized by chills, fever, malaise, and joint and muscle pain, and lasts about one to two weeks. The more severe illness affects the central nervous system and causes fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, convulsions and coma.
Until Breen and Sgorbati became infected, EEE was unknown in humans in Vermont. The first animal cases of the disease appeared in emus in Brandon about a year ago.
It was after Breen’s death that state officials sprayed insecticide in Brandon and Whiting in order to kill the species of mosquito that carries EEE.
“No amount of mosquito mitigation will eliminate the risk,” Chen wrote. “There will be a very small risk of exposure to EEE until after the first hard frost. What’s important right now is that Vermonters are aware of EEE and take steps to avoid exposure.”
In order to protect themselves from mosquito bites and risk of infection from EEE and West Nile virus, officials recommend that Vermonters:
• Limit time spent outdoors at dawn and dusk.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outside when mosquitoes are active.
• Use insect repellents labeled as being effective against mosquitoes.
• Remove standing water around your house.
The first case of a Vermont horse infected with EEE was identified just this past Friday, Sept. 14. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture was notified that a horse in Whiting began showing signs of EEE illness, including lack of coordination, on Sept. 6. Officials believe the animal was probably infected between Aug. 27 and Sept. 3 as the result of a bite by an infected mosquito. The horse was not vaccinated for EEE.
Although horses are the animals most susceptible to EEE, the virus can also cause disease in other mammals, such as llamas and alpacas, and in emus. In animals, the onset of clinical signs is generally three to 10 days after a bite by an infected mosquito. Mammals infected with EEE most commonly exhibit neurologic signs including ataxia or lack of coordination, inability to stand, limb weakness or paralysis, seizures and death, while infected emus often develop hemorrhagic diarrhea. Mammals infected with EEE are dead-end hosts, meaning that they generally cannot transmit EEE to other animals or to people. Vermont cases of EEE are required to be reported to the Office of the State Veterinarian.
Chen took pains to point out the unusual circumstance of having two people in the same area die from EEE.
“I want to remind you that this is a very rare disease,” he wrote. “Having two Vermonters die from EEE is tragic and — I am sure — difficult for family members to understand.”
“(Sgorbati) was a really incredible community member,” said Sue Bloomer, who met him at Sudbury Country School, where they both had children enrolled. “He was one of those parents who would jump at any volunteer opportunity no matter how pleasant or unpleasant it was.
“He would show up with a big smile, and he would just ask, ‘What do you need?’”
Among those jobs was volunteering to feed the school’s fish on the weekends. He also always played an active role in planning Halloween observances at the grade school, even to the point of wearing costumes.
“Oh my gosh, would he ever,” Bloomer said. “Every year people would wonder what he was going to do.
“He would come in and help organize the activities and the food. That’s always going to be a huge memory for the kids.”
Sgorbati was called a gifted craftsman and carpenter. He installed kitchens for a Rutland contractor.
Friends said that, like in any small town, folks in Sudbury know when neighbors are in need of help. Sgorbati is remembered as someone who went out of his way to offer assistance.
“If he heard of someone struggling to get their wood in, he would just show up and help,” Bloomer said. “He gave you a hug when you needed it.”
Friends are organizing efforts to raise money for the Sgorbati’s widow, Kathy, and their 10- and 14-year-old sons. Contributions are being accepted to the Scott Sgorbati Memorial Fund, for the benefit of his children’s education, c/o Lake Sunapee’s Brandon Bank, 2 Park St., Brandon, VT 05733. A dinner, bake sale and raffle have been set for this Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Brandon American Legion. A benefit concert by the band Footloose is also in the works.
“There was a genuineness about him, a caring,” Bloomer said. “He would stand out in a crowd.
He would stand out in more ways than one. Sgorbati was over six feet tall with an athletic build, tasseled brown hair, big eyes and what was described as an endearing smile.
His brother, Steve Sgorbati of Sudbury, said his family was taking the death pretty hard.
“He was a big guy with a big heart. It’s ironic that a little mosquito brought him down,” he said. “He was always the first one to offer anybody help.”