PLYMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — The state of Massachusetts is bracing for an expected uptick in cases of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) this summer, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.
EEE has been detected in two mosquito samples so far this year, the first from a July 1 sample out of Orange, which is the earliest it’s been detected in 20 years, according to Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel.
The second sample was found on July 5 in Wendell. No cases have been reported so far this summer in any humans or animals.
Baker said the migration patterns of birds carrying EEE have changed, which is why they’re detecting the virus in areas of the state where it was not been historically found, including both Orange and Wendell.
“It is important to keep in mind that EEE outbreaks usually last two to three years,” Baker said. “That means we can expect the 2020 season to feature a high number of cases again.”
Last year’s mosquito season began quietly but quickly erupted in Southern New England, raising EEE risk levels significantly across both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. At least one person died from EEE in Rhode Island, six deaths in Massachusetts and three in Connecticut.
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Bharel said last year was the most active year for Massachusetts since the 1950s.
Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said the state began targeting mosquito larvae in early spring, especially in the areas that have had outbreaks in the past.
“This spring we started early, even in the midst of COVID-19 surge,” she said. “Larvae sighting applications were conducted by regional mosquito control districts targeting almost 20,000 acres.”
Baker introduced new legislation back in April that would allow for a more state-wide approach to monitoring EEE.
“The public health risks of mosquito borne viruses, such as EEE, present and require a coordinated and unified approach on a state-wide basis,” Baker said.
Bahrel said state health officials are currently expanding their trapping locations and working to reduce the timing between the trapping and testing of mosquitoes.
“We’ve significantly expanded the number and geographic coverage of mosquito traps for surveillance purposes,” Bharel said. “The positive mosquito samples that we just reported on comes from one of these expanded surveillance trap sites.”
The Department of Public Health also launched a new website, which includes a EEE risk map. The website is part of a campaign aimed at expanding public awareness on how residents can protect themselves against mosquito borne illnesses.
Theoharides also reminded horse owners to make sure they vaccinate against EEE, last year the disease led to the death of eight horses.