WHITMAN — State and local public health officials have announced that an elderly Plymouth County man is the first confirmed human case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in the state since 2013.
“Today’s news is evidence of the significant risk from EEE and we are asking residents to take this risk very seriously,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel of MassDPH. “We will continue to monitor this situation and the impacted communities.”
The nine communities now at critical risk are Carver, Lakeville, Marion, Middleborough, Rochester, and Wareham in Plymouth County and Acushnet, Freetown, and New Bedford in Bristol County.
Whitman Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Timothy Grenno and Whitman Board of Health Chairman Eric Joubert reminded residents that the virus was confirmed in mosquitoes tested in Whitman last week.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MassDPH) has confirmed that the EEE virus has been detected in mosquito samples collected in Whitman this year. As a result of the tests, the Mass.DPH has announced that the current risk level for Whitman is high.
Aerial spraying for mosquitoes in Whitman was completed by the MassDPH and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) over the weekend. MassDPH and DAR officials will monitor the area over the coming weeks and plan to conduct a second round of spraying.
At this time, scheduled activities in town are not affected by the EEE test, according to Grenno.
“The Board of Health is monitoring the situation and will continue to keep the public updated,” Health Board Chairman Joubert said Monday in a joint statement with Grenno. “We would also like to remind Whitman residents that there are health regulations in place regarding standing water in yards and unkempt yards which are common areas where mosquitoes breed.”
Whitman’s environmental regulations for mosquito reduction can be found at whitman-ma.gov. 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.
“Though scheduled outdoor activities are not affected by the results of the tests, taking preventative measures, especially the use of proper bug repellent, is a necessity for any outdoor activities, including sporting events,” Grenno said.
This week Mass.DPH and the DAR announced they would be conducting and monitoring aerial spraying in specific areas of Bristol and Plymouth counties to reduce the mosquito population and public health risk. Aerial spraying began Aug. 8 and is expected to continue throughout the weekend during evening and overnight hours.
Although the scheduled aerial spray is designed to help reduce the risk of EEE throughout the area, residents are reminded that they should use mosquito repellent and consider staying indoors during the dusk to dawn hours to reduce exposure to mosquitoes.
In addition to the nine communities now at critical risk, 15 communities in southeastern Massachusetts have been determined by DPH to be at high risk for the EEE virus and 18 at moderate risk.
EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages. EEE occurs sporadically in Massachusetts with the most recent outbreak years occurring from 2004-2006 and 2010-2012. There were 22 human cases of EEE infection during those two outbreak periods with 14 cases occurring among residents of Bristol and Plymouth Counties.
EEE virus has been found in 227 mosquito samples this year, many of them from species of mosquitoes capable of spreading the virus to people.
People have an important role to play in protecting themselves and their loved ones from illnesses caused by mosquitoes.
Avoid mosquito bites
• Be aware of peak mosquito hours: 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.
Information about EEE and reports of current and historical EEE virus activity in Massachusetts can be found on the MDPH website.