While Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile virus (WNV) still pose a threat to many communities in Massachusetts, local officials have not yet recommended changes to outdoor event schedules.
EEE levels as categorized by The Mass. Department of Public Health include remote, low, moderate, high, and critical designations. Whitman is considered high while Hanson is in the moderate category.
Test samples of mosquitos in Whitman have tested positive for EEE over the summer and the risk level is high for EEE while low for WNV, according to the Mass. Department of Public Health. Hanson is listed as at moderate risk for EEE and low for WNV.
After consulting with the Whitman Board of Health, the Hanson Board of Health, Whitman Fire Chief Timothy Grenno and Hanson Deputy Fire Chief Rob O’Brien, on Thursday, Sept. 5, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak recommended that there be no change to current outdoor evening activities in either town, including school activities and sports for the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District.
If any changes or modifications to after school outdoors activities is warranted, parents and residents will be notified immediately, Szymaniak said.
During this time of year, Szymaniak is recommending that families follow DPH guidelines in regard to wearing bug spray, long sleeved shirts and long pants while outdoors.
So far this season, 379 mosquito populations have tested positive for EEE and nine animals and four humans have been infected. A 59-year-old Bristol County woman has died from the virus while a man over 60 fell into a coma. Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester counties all have mosquito populations that have tested positive.
The threat of WNV is less with 61 mosquito populations testing positive and no animal or human cases to date. Risk categories for WNV are low, moderate, high, and critical. Both Whitman and Hanson are at low risk while neighboring Halifax and other South Shore communities are considered to be at moderate risk.
Aerial spraying to reduce mosquito populations was conducted in parts of Bristol and Plymouth Counties on Aug. 8 through12 and Aug. 22 through 25. The pesticide used is Anvil 10+10 which contains two ingredients: Sumithrin and Piperonyl butoxide.
“It should be noted that although the aerial spraying is considered necessary to reduce human risk, it will not eliminate risk,” the DPH stated on its website.
Preventive measures for those communities at critical risk include the recommendation that recreational outdoor activities held between dusk and dawn be canceled. For the week starting Sept. 8, dawn is considered 5:45 a.m. and dusk is considered 7:15 p.m.
With no existing vaccines or specific antiviral treatments for either EEE or WNV, the best preventative measures are those that decrease the likelihood of getting bit by mosquitos. Recommendations include wearing long pants and shirts, eliminating any standing water on your property, and wearing an EPA registered repellant with at least one of the following ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), Para-menthane-diol (PMD), and 2-undecanone. Repellants are not recommended for infants under two months of age.
While rare, Massachusetts was second only to Florida in the number of EEE cases between 2009 and 2018. The incubation period for the disease is 4-10 days with some of those infected remaining asymptomatic. The systemic infection has an abrupt onset with some of the signs and symptoms including chills, fever, malaise, arthralgia, and myalgia. In infants, onset of encephalitis is abrupt while in older children and adults, encephalitis starts within a few days of systemic illness. Signs and symptoms of encephalitis include fever, headache, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, cyanosis, convulsions, and coma.
A third of those diagnosed with EEE will die while many that survive are left with secondary mental and physical impairments that are often disabling and progressive.
Residents with questions or concerns can contact their local boards of health — 781-618-9754 for Whitman and 781-293-3138 for Hanson.