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September 28. 2012 12:35AM

EEE fears trigger more spraying


Sara MacGregor, president of Dragon Mosquito Control Inc. of Brentwood, uses tweezers to carefully study mosquitoes under a microscope in her search for species that carry Eastern equine encephalitis. Towns are calling in professionals to check breeding areas after the disease has been found in the state. (JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent)

One by one, Sarah MacGregor plucked dead mosquitoes from a petri dish Thursday and prepared to send them off to the state lab for testing.

“It's a scary time of year,” she said.

MacGregor, president of Dragon Mosquito Control Inc. of Brentwood, examined the mosquitoes found in Brentwood and discovered that most were the species that carry the potentially deadly Eastern equine encephalitis, commonly known as EEE.

Fears over EEE have grown in recent weeks after the rare virus that causes brain swelling killed a horse in Derry, two emus in Fitzwilliam, and last Saturday claimed the life of a 63-year-old woman from nearby Amesbury, Mass.

The increasing threat has prompted several towns to call in pest control companies to spray roads, schools, town fields and other places where the public could be at risk.

“In the last couple of weeks we've had significant threats on our borders. We want to try to reduce the threat,” Hampstead Health Officer Kristopher Emerson said.

Hampstead hasn't had a mosquito pool test positive for EEE yet, but Emerson said officials want to “take a preemptive strike.”

Dragon Mosquito Control plans to conduct emergency spraying today in Hampstead to kill adult mosquitoes at the middle school, Hampstead Central School, the fields on Depot Road and Holiday Lane, the Meeting House Field and Woodland Pond Field from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

The town of Derry planned more emergency spraying Thursday night and Danville will have the area around its elementary school sprayed today.

Newton conducted townwide road spraying Tuesday and Wednesday after a second mosquito pool tested positive for EEE — this time in the area of North Main Street.

Newton Town Administrator Nancy Wrigley said the town has no plans for additional emergency spraying, but that could change.

“We're open for discussion if we don't get a freeze anytime soon,” she said.

Newton has been a hotbed for EEE activity ever since 2005 when 20-year-old Kelly Labell died after being bitten by an infected mosquito. She was one of seven people infected that year in New Hampshire.

“We led the nation in human cases that year,” MacGregor said.

East Kingston, Goffstown, Hooksett, Seabrook and South Hampton sprayed last week, while Sandown — the first town to have a mosquito pool test positive for EEE this season — sprayed in early September.

Like other towns, Hampstead has had a mosquito control program in place for the last several years. Crews begin taking steps in the spring with mosquito trapping and surveillance followed by larviciding.

The town conducts emergency spraying whenever there's an elevated public health threat, Emerson said.

Most of the focus this summer was on West Nile virus, another mosquito-borne illness that's less dangerous. That changed in late August when EEE began showing up in southern New Hampshire.

The state said it will extend testing until Oct. 12, MacGregor said.

“This year has been strange because we started out with a record number of West Nile positives and then we transitioned to EEE. We haven't had another West Nile positive in quite a few weeks. The mosquitoes that are flying right now, they're the ones that carry EEE, but they can carry West Nile, too,” MacGregor said.

Mosquitoes continue to be active, with high temperatures forecast in the 70s next week.

“My crews did see mosquitoes flying yesterday, so as long as the weather holds, we'll still have a need (for spraying). The window is going to close at some point,” MacGregor said.

That window won't close until the first hard freeze, which MacGregor said may not happen in southeastern New Hampshire until late October.

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at jschreiber@newstote.com.


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