With two new human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in Massachusetts and mosquitoes found with EEE in West Newbury late last week, area school and municipal officials were urging people to take precautions to avoid the potentially deadline virus.
The state Department of Public Health announced the two latest cases of the mosquito-borne disease were in a woman in her 60s from eastern Worcester County and a girl under the age of 18 from southwestern Middlesex County. One of the previously announced cases, in Fairhaven, was fatal.
On Friday, Pentucket Regional School Superintendent Justin Bartholomew announced his district was restricting outdoor activity for students in response to positive tests for EEE in mosquito pools in West Newbury.
The West Newbury Health Division was notified Friday by the state DPH that two mosquito pools in the area of Ash Swamp on Ash Street tested positive for EEE. The mosquitoes tested were trapped on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and were of a species that is known to bite mammals.
Bartholomew said all district outdoor sports practices and games on Pentucket Regional School District properties and public practice fields in West Newbury, Merrimac and Groveland, including Mill Pond/Pipestave Hill, would be held before dusk, postponed or rescheduled until further notice.
"Student health and safety is of the utmost importance to us all, and unfortunately in this case that means we need to keep our student athletes off of the fields and inside after dusk while the risk for EEE remains a concern," Bartholomew said in a release. "We encourage students and their families to take care to protect themselves against mosquitoes in the meantime, and follow safety recommendations from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health."
EEE is a rare but serious illness spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. While EEE can infect people of all ages, people under 15 or over 50 years of age are at the greatest risk for serious illness.
The Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District planned to deploy truck-based adulticide mosquito spray Monday or Tuesday, depending on the weather, in West Newbury and Groveland.
Also last week, a joint press release issued by West Newbury Fire Chief Michael Dwyer, West Newbury Health Agent Paul Sevigny, Newbury Police Chief and Emergency Management Director Michael Reilly and Groveland Finance and Personnel Director Denise Dembkoski urged residents of area towns to wear appropriate clothing and mosquito repellant when going outside.
In Newburyport, Fire Chief Christopher LeClaire, who also serves as the city's emergency management director, also cautioned residents to take precautions, citing EEE found in mosquito samples taken in Andover, Boxford and Methuen.
"Although mosquitoes in Newburyport have not tested positive for EEE, we would still like to offer residents some tips to avoid being exposed to the virus," LeClaire said. "City officials will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates to residents as needed."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the incubation period for EEE disease ranges from 4 to 10 days. The infection results in one of two types of illness --either systemic or encephalitic, which involves the swelling of the brain. "A systemic infection has an abrupt onset and is characterized by chills, fever, malaise, arthralgia, and myalgia," states the CDC. It typically lasts one to two weeks. If the central nervous system is not involved, recovery should be complete.
Precautions recommended by LeClaire and other officials in the region include:
Be aware of peak mosquito hours to avoid bites: The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during the evening or early morning. If you are outdoors at any time and notice mosquitoes around you, take steps to avoid being bitten by moving indoors, covering up and/or wearing repellent.
Clothing can help reduce mosquito bites: Although it may be difficult to do when it’s hot, wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks while outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.
Apply insect repellent when you go outdoors. Use a repellent with DEET, permethrin, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus according to the instructions on the product label. DEET products should not be used on infants under two months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age. Permethrin products are intended for use on items such as clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear and should not be applied directly to your skin.
Mosquito-proof your home.
Drain standing water: Many mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or getting rid of items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty any unused flowerpots and wading pools and change water in birdbaths frequently.
Install or repair window and door screens: Some mosquitoes like to come indoors. Keep them outside by having tightly-fitting screens on all of your windows and doors.
Besides the seven reported human cases of EEE this year, eight horses and a goat have also contracted the disease, according to the DPH.
There are now 36 communities statewide at critical risk, 42 at high risk, and 115 at moderate risk.
Information about EEE and reports of current and historical EEE virus activity in Massachusetts can be found on the DPH website: www.mass.gov/guides/eee-in-massachusetts.
Daily News correspondent Jennifer Solis and the Associated Press contributed to this report.