EEE 2020: Massachusetts preparing for next year's risk now

BOSTON — Massachusetts is dealing with its worst outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE, in more than 50 years.

Though the first hard frost will end the threat this year, mosquito and health experts believe EEE will rise again next year. The EEE outbreak is cyclical, according to experts, and it normally lasts for two to three years.

To figure out how to stay ahead of next year’s virus, experts are trying to determine why 2019 was such an epic year. The wet, rainy weather is one reason, according to Catherine Brown, the head epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Brown also told Boston 25 News that the state could be dealing with a new strain of the EEE virus that found its way here from Florida. She added that climate change could be playing a role.

So local mosquito control districts are trying to get ahead of next year now. Crews with the Norfolk County Mosquito Control District are clearing up areas where water pools, making a habitat for mosquitoes. The district is also dropping larvicide from helicopters to attack mosquito larvae in marshy areas. And they are also using surveillance of the insects, especially the coquillettidia perturbans, which bites birds and then spreads EEE to humans and horses. They hope that research will help them gain an understanding of this year’s outbreak.

Armed with that habitat information and the areas where the perturbans live and breed, those habitats can then be targeted to try to control next season’s EEE outbreak before it starts.

Homeowners can take steps now to reduce risk. For instance, clean out your gutters after the leaves have fallen. Blocked gutters can pool water and create a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos carrying EEE next year.

For more information on EEE in Massachusetts, visit: https://www.mass.gov/guides/eee-in-massachusetts