State, residents urged to be ready for active EEE season

Health

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (WWLP/SHNS) – While managing the ongoing response to an outbreak of one sometimes-fatal virus state officials are gearing up for an active summer season for another one, but the messaging to keep residents safe shares many similarities.

Whether it’s the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 or the mosquito-borne eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus that appears primed for an active summer, the main message from Gov. Charlie Baker, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel and others Tuesday was that it’s up to each individual to take appropriate steps to limit their own risk of exposure.

Related: Spread of EEE virus may increase during summer

“The key to our message is about taking personal protective measures,” Bharel said at a press conference in Plymouth. She added, “We’ve all been spending a lot of time indoors related to COVID-19 and we want the residents of Massachusetts to go outside and enjoy outdoor time with their families. But just like we asked you to take precautions against the other virus that causes COVID, we ask you to take enhanced precautions against EEE so that we can protect ourselves and continue to enjoy the outdoors.”

Bharel said people across Massachusetts, not just areas that commonly see cases of EEE, should use mosquito repellents with an EPA-registered active ingredient, wear long sleeves and long pants when outdoors to reduce exposed skin, and stay aware of mosquito activity in the community.

And by the end of this week, legislation granting the administration new powers to run a statewide mosquito control response when the threat of EEE or other mosquito-related diseases is high could be one step closer to the governor’s desk, House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office said.

The state is launching a public awareness campaign to remind people of the threat of EEE and the ways to stay safe during mosquito season, and will post the messages on digital billboards, on social media and streaming services, and on television, Bharel said. A new website, www.mass.gov/mosquitoesandticks, includes statewide EEE and West Nile virus risk maps.

Last year was the “most active year since the 1950s” for EEE in Massachusetts, with 12 human cases of EEE and six deaths, Bharel said.

EEE is a rare but serious disease that can affect people of all ages and gets worse in the summer months. It’s generally spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

There were 12 human cases of EEE in Massachusetts in 2019 and six deaths. There were also nine cases in domestic animals. The best way to protect yourself from EEE is to avoid mosquito bites by applying insect repellent with DEET whenever you go outside.

The first sample in Massachusetts this year was collected on July 1st in the town of Orange in Franklin County. The risk level of EEE in Orange and Athol was raised to moderate due to the findings.

A second mosquito tested positive for EEE in a sample collected on July 5 in the Franklin County town of Wendell. This increases the risk level of EEE to moderate in the communities of Wendell and New Salem. 

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