West Nile, EEE viruses show up in Amherst and Northampton: people over 50 and under 15 at highest risk

Last modified: Friday, August 02, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — West Nile virus was detected Tuesday in mosquitoes collected from Northampton and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus in mosquitoes collected from Amherst, the state Department of Public Health announced.

The discovery of the EEE virus in mosquitoes in Amherst was the first confirmed instance this year, according to the state health department. The finding places Amherst at moderate risk for the virus, along with Belchertown, where a case of the Eastern equine virus was found in a horse in 2012.

No human cases of either of the two mosquito-borne viruses have been reported this year.

Eastern equine encephalitis is a rare but serious illness caused by the EEE virus that can spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. While the virus can infect people of all ages, people under 15 or over 50 and those with weakened immunue systems are at greatest risk for serious health complications, according to state health officials.

Infection in healthy people is marked by flulike symptoms, including high fevers and headaches. More serious symptoms include neck stiffness, convulsions, loss of vision and coma.

West Nile virus can also be transmitted to humans by a bite from an infected mosquito. The mosquitoes that carry the virus are common throughout the state and are found in urban as well as rural areas, according to the state health department.

While West Nile can infect people of all ages, those over 50 are at higher risk for severe infection. West Nile can cause illnesses ranging from a mild fever to more serious diseases like encephalitis or meningitis. The majority of people who are infected will have no symptoms.

The Northampton Health Department said it will continue to monitor the situation and update the public about the detection of West Nile in mosquito samples in the city.

“By taking a few, common-sense precautions, people can help to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said an announcement posted Tuesday on the department’s website.

David Ziomek, assistant town manager for Amherst, had a similar message for residents of his town.

Ziomek noted that mosquitoes carrying the Eastern equine virus have been found in Amherst in previous summers.

“This is not unusual and it is not a time to panic,” he said. “It’s a time to monitor the situation and take precautions.”

Steps to avoid infection recommended by state and local health departments include:

∎ Avoid peak mosquito hours: Dusk to dawn is peak biting time for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during the evening or early morning. If you are outdoors at any time and notice mosquitoes around you, take steps to avoid being bitten by moving indoors, covering up and/or wearing repellent.

∎ Wear clothing to help reduce mosquito bites: Although it may be difficult to do when it’s hot, wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.

∎ Apply insect repellent when you go outdoors: Use a repellent with DEET, permethrin, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus according to the instructions on the product label. DEET products should not be used on infants under 2 months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years of age. Permethrin products are intended for use on items such as clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear and should not be applied to skin.

∎ Mosquito-proof your home: Drain standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or getting rid of items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty any unused flowerpots and wading pools and change water in birdbaths frequently. Some mosquitoes like to come indoors. Keep them outside by having tightly-fitting screens on all windows and doors.

In Amherst, questions about Eastern equine virus can be directed to Public Health Nurse Jennifer Brown at 259-3077.

In Northampton, the health department can be reached at 587-1214.

Detailed information about mosquito-borne diseases, surveillance, and reports of current and historical West Nile and Eastern equine virus activity in Massachusetts can be found on the state Department of Public Health website at www.mass.gov/dph/wnv or by calling 617-983-6800.


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