DPH confirms fifth human case of EEE in Massachusetts

Health

BOSTON (WWLP) – Public Health officials on Thursday confirmed the state’s fifth human case of the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). 

The Massachusetts Department of health identified the new confirmed case as a woman in her 60s who was exposed to the virus in Plymouth County. She was exposed to EEE in an area already known to be at elevated risk, so no change in the risk level is needed for that area. 

As of Thursday, four municipalities are at critical risk, 10 at high risk, and 17 at moderate risk for EEE in the Commonwealth. Locally, we have at least one town marked as “red,” but experts say there are easy ways to protect yourself.

“We’re outside all the time, said Kathy Stier of Deerfield. “My husband and I live right by the river.”

Stier knows the importance of protecting herself from EEE. She’s a former biology teacher of 30 years, and said she used to do case studies on EEE. But this year, she hasn’t noticed as many mosquitos.

“One thing that this summer and even the fall has shown is because it’s been so dry we’ve really seen a decrease in ticks and mosquitos,” Stier explained.

The DPH said more than 95 percent of the EEE cases that have occurred in Massachusetts since 2000 have been exposed to the virus before mid-September. Mosquito populations are declining although some risk will continue until the first hard frost.  

Four other human cases have been identified this year. In 2019, there were 12 human cases of EEE in Massachusetts with six deaths. EEE virus has been found in 65 mosquito samples this year, over 70 percent of them in species of mosquitoes capable of spreading the virus to people.  

Experts remind you to use mosquito repellent when outside and to avoid outdoor activity at dawn and dusk.

“Wearing protective clothing when you go outside,” said Natasha Wright, an entomologist at Berman Termite and Pest Elimination. “Repellents, long sleeves, long pants, closed toed shoes.”

In the western part of the state, Wilbraham is in the red, listed as a critical risk for EEE after a woman in her 60s contracted the virus. Monson and Hampden are also listed as high risk.

It’s a risk that Stier takes seriously, but this year the threat feels different.

“You know I know EEE is a little bit of a concern, but right now, we’re still just trying to do the right thing with COVID-19,” Stier added.

Experts also say to make sure you clear away any standing water on your property. That includes cleaning out your rain gutters since water attracts mosquitoes.

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