Mosquito EEE threat

CONCORD — Less than a week after state health officials reported a Kingston man had been diagnosed with two mosquito-borne viruses, a case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis has been confirmed in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced Friday that a Plymouth County man had tested positive for EEE, the Bay State’s first confirmed case in a human since 2013.

EEE, one of several diseases that can be spread by mosquitoes, can cause people to develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, weakness, and muscle and joint pains. It affects all age groups and can also cause a more serious central nervous system infection such as meningitis or encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain.

Phil Alexakos, the chief operating officer of the Manchester Health Department, said Granite Staters should be concerned but not panic about the Massachusetts’ EEE case.

“Having mosquito batches and activity that far away doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact on what our risk is but it’s certainly something to watch,” Alexakos said.

Alexakos said testing of mosquitoes around Manchester has not detected EEE, West Nile or any of the other diseases tested by the state arbovirus surveillance program. But last year there was enough concern, mostly over West Nile, to initiate spraying to control the mosquito population.

Although spraying is an effective means at reducing the population, Alexakos said it doesn’t eliminate all risks and urged people to follow basic safety protocols when it comes to mosquitoes and ticks.

“We want people to enjoy the outdoors, but taking some basic precautions is certainly prudent,” Alexakos said.

EEE was first identified in New Hampshire in August 2004. Although testing in the Granite State has not confirmed any cases so far this summer, EEE resurfaced last year in six batches of mosquitoes that had been collected for weekly testing.

The positive tests were New Hampshire’s first confirmed cases of mosquitoes infected with EEE since 2015. New Hampshire has not had a human case of EEE since 2014, when three people contracted the virus and two of them died.

Health officials said the risks of EEE, West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses will continue as long as the weather remains warm enough for the insects to breed and remain active.

“From spring until fall, New Hampshire residents and visitors are at risk for a number of different infections from the bite of mosquitoes and ticks,” New Hampshire state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said last week in a release.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Resources issued the release after the Kingston man tested positive for Jamestown Canyon virus (JCV) and Powassan virus (POW).

While POW is transmitted by infected ticks, JCV is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and, in most cases, infected humans tend to have mild symptoms.

Chan said the best way to avoid exposure to the diseases is to prevent mosquito and tick bites. DHHS recommendations include use of an effective insect repellant, wearing protective clothing that limits the amount of skin the bugs can reach and eliminating standing water that can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Health officials also recommend securing screens on windows and doors so they fit tightly and keeping pets up to date on vaccinations.

The DHHS Public Health Laboratories conduct weekly tests from July 1 through Oct. 15 for EEE, West Nile and other arboviral illnesses.