DPH: 28 Mass. communities hit 'critical' risk level for EEE

Town of Medfield on high alert after EEE risk raised to 'critical'

METHUEN, Mass. — After four horses tested positive on Thursday for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, commonly known as EEE, the risk level has been raised to critical in Medfield, Holliston, Brookfield and Granby.

That brings the total number of horses infected with EEE to seven in Massachusetts this year.

There are 28 communities now at critical risk, 37 at high risk and 126 at moderate risk for the EEE virus in the state.

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“As we head into the Labor Day weekend and the month of September people should not forget to bring and use an EPA-approved mosquito repellent for any outdoor activities,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel. “The peak time for transmission of mosquito-borne illness extends through September here in Massachusetts.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health confirmed the cases, widening the risk to more parts of the state. Massachusetts won't be aerial spraying, but town-wide spraying by trucks by the Norfolk County Mosquito Control District will happen Friday starting at dusk and additional ground spraying in Holliston will happen over the weekend.

All town and Medfield Public Schools outdoor activities will end at 7 p.m. and night games will be rescheduled.

Last week in Methuen a horse tested positive for the disease and officials said you should limit your time outdoors after sundown.

"We are being extremely cautious about this," said Methuen Mayor James Jajuga. "We don't want anyone to get sick and, obviously most importantly, we don't want anyone to lose their [lives]."

Officials in the city quickly decided to cancel all city and school-sponsored outdoor activities in the evening, including sporting events.

"So anything after 7 p.m. will not occur anymore," said Amy Ewing, a nurse for Methuen Public Health. "And that goes until Sept 30, and October 1 that time will drop until 6 o'clock."

They are still working to determine what to do about morning activities.

"We will discuss that tomorrow," Ewing said on Monday. "School starts Wednesday, so we have tomorrow to do any more planning that we need for precautionary purposes."

The Westborough Board of Health even voted to ban outdoor activities effective immediately Monday afternoon, due to the high threat of EEE in that town. They don't want anyone out from dusk to dawn to prevent being bitten by a mosquito with EEE.

"Any town or school-owned property's recreational programs," Westborough Public Health Director Steven Baccari said. "We asked that all the programs stop by 7 o’clock. Right now, it would including any town owned parks also."

According to the Mass. Department of Public Health, Westborough is one of nearly two dozen communities deemed at 'critical risk' for EEE.

In Norfolk County, trucks are expected to hit the road Monday night after the sun goes down to spray for EEE.

Dave Lawson, the director of the Norfolk County Mosquito Control District, says a big reason we're seeing a jump in the mosquito-borne virus is the rainy weather we've had this year.

"We had a wet spring and it’s been a wetter summer than we’ve had in many years, so the mosquito populations are up," Lawson said.

The risk level for Andover was also raised from moderate to high Monday afternoon, adding to a series of risk alerts from earlier in the day.

According to the DPH, EEE is extremely rare. But there have been four human cases of the mosquito-borne virus in the state in just the last month. They are the first reported cases since an outbreak in 2013.

The symptoms of EEE

The first symptoms of EEE are a sudden onset of a headache, a high fever, chills and vomiting. Then, as the virus progresses, an infected person can experience disorientation and seizures.

The CDC says those symptoms start anywhere between four and 10 days from the time that someone is bitten by an infected mosquito.

As far as those who are most at risk, the CDC says those who live and visit high-risk areas, and people over 50 and people younger than 15.

But anyone can contract the virus.

"All of us are at risk for mosquito bites regardless of how old you are or where you live or anything like that," Ewing said. "So I think that the most critical information here is that people need to protect themselves against mosquito bites."