The threat from a mosquito bite is on the rise in New Hampshire, and no one knows the danger better than Raymond Police Chief Michael Labell.
In 2005, his sister, Kelly, became infected with Eastern equine encephalitis after she was bitten by a mosquito while living in Newton.
Many residents weren’t familiar with EEE at the time, but they soon learned that it can have deadly consequences.
Kelly died a week after falling ill.
“It was aggressive and spread through her body very quickly. She was a beautiful, healthy young lady who was full of life. She wasn’t an avid outdoor person so we can only speculate that it was a random mosquito bite that happened as she was walking to her car, into the house or a store, or something along those lines,” Labell said Wednesday.
It’s been 14 years since her death and the threat has not gone away.
This week, officials in Candia and Sandown warned that mosquitoes there were among the latest to test positive for EEE.
The discovery followed an announcement by state health officials on Aug. 28 that a horse in Northwood had become infected with the virus.
Mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE in other communities as well, including Hampstead, Manchester and Pelham.
“I don’t really breathe a sigh of relief until I see snow on the ground. People need to consider that mosquitoes are active well into November in some years,” said Sarah MacGregor, president of Dragon Mosquito Control Inc. in Brentwood.
EEE is a rare and potentially fatal viral disease that strikes the nervous system and is far more deadly than West Nile virus, another mosquito-borne illness spread through bites. Symptoms of EEE include high fever, severe headache and stiff neck.
Sandown is among the towns making plans for emergency spraying at schools and other town recreational areas.
Selectman Tom Tombarello, board chairman, said the town budgets $26,500 for mosquito control.
“It’s money well-spent to protect our residents,” he said.
Tombarello also owns horses and said he always makes sure they’re vaccinated.
The Hampstead and Timberlane Regional school districts issued letters to parents Tuesday outlining the steps they were taking to protect students.
Hampstead officials are giving parents the option to allow students to participate in all outdoor and physical education classes and put mosquito repellent on their children before they come to school. Parents can also choose to have their child remain indoors until the second hard freeze or give permission for school staff to apply mosquito spray.
At Timberlane, which serves Atkinson, Danville, Plaistow and Sandown, Superintendent Dr. Earl Metzler said the district is working with the towns to ensure appropriate mosquito spraying on school properties. Students will continue to have recess outdoors unless parents want their child to remain inside.
Schedules for after-school sports are also being changed to make sure students are off practice and game fields by 6 p.m. whenever possible.
According to state health officials, there have been 15 cases of EEE infections in humans in New Hampshire since 2004. The last human cases were in 2014, when three were reported. No human infections have been reported so far this year.
In 2012, the virus killed a horse in Derry and two emus in Fitzwilliam.
MacGregor said the threat from mosquito-borne diseases was low in 2016 and 2017 because of the severe drought.
“I had never seen the mosquito numbers so low,” she said.
But that changed after above-average rainfall last year and a wet spring created perfect conditions for mosquitoes to thrive.
MacGregor and her team have been busy trapping mosquitoes in several communities, sorting out the species that could carry the virus, and shipping them off to the state lab for testing.
She said many communities are now trying to set up emergency spraying.
Her crews also continue to put larvicide on salt marshes, treat catch basins, and check freshwater sites.
Officials warn people to take precautions, including eliminating standing water and other mosquito breeding locations; wearing long pants and shirts if outside during peak times when mosquitoes are active; and using insect repellent with DEET.
Since losing his sister, Chief Labell and his family have also tried to make people more aware of the threat. He said his advice to people is to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“Now that I’m a parent I find myself being very aware and cognizant of the issue, but even so, it sometimes feels like a hassle to put bug spray on or wear protective clothing, but I always make sure that we do.
“The difference for me and my family is that we’ve crossed the line from it won’t happen to us, to, it did happen to us and we don’t want it to happen again,” he said.