EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Fall is fast approaching and while it’s starting to feel that way outside, it doesn’t mean the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses is over.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a rare disease but it’s a real threat this year in Southern New England. The virus recently claimed the lives of a Fairhaven woman and a Warwick man, and a 5-year-old Boston girl is showing signs of improvement after she was infected.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, half of all confirmed EEE cases have resulted in death while those who survived had lifelong disabilities.
Another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus, has been far less active but also remains a threat. On Wednesday, a man in his 60s in Middlesex County, Mass., was confirmed to be the state’s first human case this season.
Fact Sheet: Signs & Symptoms of Mosquito-Borne Diseases »
The risk of EEE has been deemed critical in more than two dozen Massachusetts communities and many others are currently listed as moderate or high-risk. In Rhode Island, at least four zones are considered critical at this time.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker met with public health leaders Wednesday afternoon in Lakeville to discuss the ongoing efforts to combat the viruses.
Throughout the summer, aerial and ground spraying for mosquitoes has been conducted in critical areas of both states. The R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) also dropped larvicide in swampy areas of the state last week in hopes of preventing immature mosquitoes from developing into adults.
“Mosquitos that carry EEE and other diseases get more infected over the summer and so the human cases don’t develop until September or October,” the DEM’s Mike Healey explained. “The more we can kill adult mosquitos, the better we can protect public health.”
Both states say the chemicals used in spraying have no adverse effects on humans.
The threat of mosquito-borne viruses typically lasts until the first hard frost, which normally arrives in mid- to late October. Until then, health officials urge residents to take steps to avoid being bitten.
One common piece of advice is to stay indoors between dusk and dawn if possible but that won’t be possible for thousands of Rhode Islanders starting on Saturday as deer-hunting season gets underway.
The DEM put out a notice to all licensed hunters to make sure to wear long sleeves and bug spray to limit exposure. In addition, two deer have tested positive for EEE this month so hunters are urged to be cautious when field dressing game and not consume any animal that appears unhealthy.
EEE concerns have also prompted many schools to reschedule high school football games and other outdoor events.
More information from the Mass. Department of Public Health:
Avoid Mosquito Bites
Apply Insect Repellent When Outdoors: Use a repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient (DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picaridin (KBR 3023), oil of lemon eucalyptus [p-methane 3, 8-diol (PMD)] or IR3535) 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% or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age.
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 evening or early morning in areas of high risk.
Clothing Can Help Reduce Mosquito Bites: Wearing long-sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.
Mosquito-Proof Your Home
Drain Standing Water: Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty unused flowerpots and wading pools and change the water in birdbaths frequently.
Install or Repair Screens: Keep mosquitoes outside by having tightly-fitting screens on all of your windows and doors.
Protect Your Animals
Animal owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools – especially after heavy rains.
Water troughs should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months to reduce mosquitoes near paddock areas.
Horse owners should keep horses in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes.
Owners should also speak with their veterinarian about mosquito repellents approved for use in animals and vaccinations to prevent WNV and EEE.
If an animal is suspected of having WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to DAR, Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795 and to the Department of Public Health (DPH) by calling 617-983-6800.