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EEE threat cuts back on outside events in Amherst

Bob Krausse, 52, of South Hadley tries his luck fly fishing on the Cushman Brook where it flows into Puffer's Pond in North Amherst. This scene is taken under the large culvert on State Street. He was hoping to catch either rainbow, brown or brook trout that the Divison of Fisheries & Wildlife have stocked this spring

Bob Krausse, 52, of South Hadley tries his luck fly fishing on the Cushman Brook where it flows into Puffer's Pond in North Amherst. This scene is taken under the large culvert on State Street. He was hoping to catch either rainbow, brown or brook trout that the Divison of Fisheries & Wildlife have stocked this spring Purchase photo reprints »

The decision comes after two horses stabled in Belchertown died after being infected with EEE and mosquitoes tested positive for the virus. After the second horse died, the state Department of Public Health last week raised the threat level in Amherst to high.

Town Manager John Musante said this will mean curtailing sports games and practices near grassy and swampy areas. Though there have been no cases of EEE in humans yet, last year seven people in the state were infected by the mosquito-transmitted illness.

EEE is a rare illness caused by a virus that humans can contract through an infected mosquito’s bite. It can cause flulike symptoms such as high fever and headache and neck stiffness, but also convulsions, loss of vision and coma. People under 15 and over 50 are more likely to have serious complications as a result of the illness, the state said.

West Nile virus, also mosquito-borne, causes no symptoms in most infected people. Those infected can show symptoms from a fever to more dangerous conditions such as meningitis and encephalitis. Again, infection is more dangerous for those over 50.

Musante said Health Director Julie Federman had conversations with athletic director Richard Ferro and Mark Miville, the sports and recreation director for the town’s Leisure Services and Supplemental Education, prior to the decision. The town also consulted with the state Department of Public Health and the MA Mosquito Advisory Group.

This follows what happened in Belchertown, where school officials announced they would change the starting times for all scheduled home night games for football and boys and girls soccer until the first frost. The idea is that games should end by 7 p.m. until Sept. 15, and then by 6:45 p.m. afterward, until the first hard frost.

Amherst’s elevation to high risk prompted the cancellation of the final Hot Summer Nights Movie Aug. 7, but should not affect the second Block Party put on by the Amherst Business Improvement District, scheduled for Sept. 12 from 6 to 10 p.m., which last year went on under similar circumstances.

Musante said the event is held largely on paved surfaces, as North Pleasant Street between Kendrick Park and Main Street is closed to traffic. The organizers will have insect repellent available and people can also wear long sleeves to protect themselves

“From a public health perspective, it’s hardscape. It’s not near where most of the (insect) activity is,” Musante said.

Another evening event, Carnival: A Night of Wonder, will feature live performances, music and dance at Kendrick Park, Sept. 7, from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Movies are scheduled to begin after 7 p.m.

In addition, the remainder of the Hampshire Shakespeare performances for the 2013 season are being moved indoors to the Black Box Theatre at the Renaissance Center because of the area’s EEE warning.

People are also reminded about the risk if they are enjoying conservation areas, such as Puffer’s Pond and Amethyst Brook, late in the day. When outdoors, residents are advised to wear long sleeves, long pants, socks, and insect repellent. They should avoid areas where mosquitoes are prevalent, including swamps, fields, the Norwottuck Rail Trail and low-lying areas, according to a town advisory.

The town’s website has a list of frequently asked questions and advice. In addition to using repellent with DEET and staying indoors at dusk and evening, tips include draining standing water and repairing window screens.

Other communities at moderate levels of risk are Hadley and South Hadley, while the risk is low in Hatfield, Northampton and Whately.

Staff writer Dan Crowley contributed to this report.

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