By Bethany Bray
---- — HAMILTON-WENHAM — The threat of Eastern equine encephalitis has led to a ban on outdoor activities in Hamilton and Wenham.
In Wenham, the ban extends to all public organized activities, such as sports practices. In Hamilton, the ban includes all organized activities, both public and private, such as backyard barbecues at private homes.
The bans were adopted at emergency meetings of Hamilton and Wenham's boards of health Monday night.
Leslie Whelan, health agent for the town of Hamilton, said yesterday the ban will be self-enforced, and the board hopes neighbors will remind neighbors about the risk of mosquito bites.
"Hamilton is at the highest risk (for EEE). ... We're just being really clear that it's a really dangerous activity to be hanging around outside," said Whelan. "People are going to make their own decisions, but by using this language that we've chosen (banning all activities), we're underscoring the importance of avoiding mosquito bites."
A horse in Essex tested positive for EEE this week, which led the state Department of Public Health to raise the threat level to "critical" for both Essex and Hamilton, which borders Essex.
The DPH also raised the EEE threat this week from "moderate" to "high" for Ipswich, Wenham, Topsfield, Gloucester and Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Critical is the highest threat level on the health department's five-level scale, said Whelan. The state recommends towns with high or critical threat levels cancel outdoor evening events.
The threat remains until the region has its first hard frost — when the temperature dips below 28 degrees for at least four hours.
Jonathan Tymann, athletic director at Gordon College in Wenham, said he spent most of yesterday afternoon rescheduling athletic and intramural sports practices and games. The college president, D. Michael Lindsay, ordered that all outdoor activities, from student club events to sports practices, be rescheduled or moved indoors.
Last night's men's soccer game between Gordon and Endicott College was bumped to 3 p.m. today.
"The health of our kids is more important than our schedule," said Tymann.
Town officials in Ipswich, Hamilton and Wenham alerted residents to the heightened EEE threat yesterday in reverse-911 messages.
Mosquitoes have tested positive for both EEE and West Nile virus in several North Shore communities this fall, including Hamilton, Wenham, Topsfield and Peabody.
EEE and West Nile virus are spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. While rare, human cases of EEE and West Nile virus can become serious and even fatal.
Town officials have opted to spray mosquito insecticide repeatedly in Hamilton, Wenham and Ipswich this fall. In mid-September, the Ipswich Public Schools decided to cancel all outdoor activities, such as sports games and practices, after 5:30 p.m. as a precaution.
Massachusetts has had seven confirmed human cases of EEE so far this year, three of which were fatal. Two of the human cases were in the Merrimack Valley, in Amesbury and Haverhill.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, most people bitten by an infected mosquito develop no symptoms. Severe cases begin with flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills and vomiting.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
Use mosquito repellent and wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors.
Repair window screens to keep mosquitoes out of the house.
Dump standing water, which is where mosquitoes lay their eggs.
Use mosquito netting on baby carriages and playpens outdoors.
Full details are posted on each town's website: www.hamiltonma.gov, www.wenhamma.gov and www.ipswichma.gov.