State: EEE risk critical in Granby, high in South Hadley, Belchertown

  • A mosquito 

Staff Writer
Published: 8/30/2019 4:24:28 PM

GRANBY — A case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus infection, a rare but serious mosquito-borne disease, was recently confirmed in a horse in Granby, state health officials announced Thursday. The state also confirmed cases in horses in Holliston, Medfield and Brookfield. 

As a result, the state has raised the EEE risk in Granby to critical, and to high in South Hadley and Belchertown. 

“Horses and other mammals are an important part of mosquito-borne disease surveillance because they are exposed by the same kinds of mosquitoes that can expose people,” state epidemiologist Catherine Brown wrote in a statement. 

High risk means that the conditions are likely to lead to EEE infecting a person, while critical means there is “excessive” risk of EEE or that someone in the area has already contracted an infection, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Around the state, 28 areas are at critical risk and 37 are at high risk.  This year, four people in Massachusetts have contracted the virus, and one of those people, a woman from Fairhaven, died recently

The most recent outbreaks of the disease occurred between 2010 and 2012, and previously one occurred between 2004 and 2006, according to the state Department of Public Health. Twenty-two people were infected with EEE during those two outbreaks.

EEE is rare and only about 4-5 percent of those infected with the virus contract the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine or anti-viral treatment for the infection, according to the CDC.

About a third of people who get EEE die, and many of those who survive sustain brain damage, according to the CDC. Initial symptoms include headache, high fever, chills and vomiting, and it can progress into seizures and a coma. 

Judy Metcalf, Belchertown director of public health, said she notified town departments and is working to get the word out to residents.  Granby and South Hadley health officials could not be reached for comment Friday. 

Granby did post two statements on its town website Thursday and Friday about EEE risk, however. 

“While Granby continues to work closely with the MDPH (Massachusetts DEpartment of Public Health) and other agencies,” Thursday’s statement reads, “locally we are actively restricting outdoor events between the hours of dusk and dawn, distributing facts sheets on EEE and on reducing exposure to mosquitoes that are available at the Granby Board of Health, the Granby Public Library and the Granby Senior Center.”

Friday’s alert states that the critical EEE risk “will remain elevated until the end of this year’s mosquito season” in Granby. 

Several years ago, Metcalf said the risk level was rated as critical in Belchertown. If that happens again, “then we would be telling the school and recreation department to reschedule things so large outdoor events don’t happen after dusk. We aren’t at that point, but we’re monitoring it. Right now it’s a public education campaign,” she said.

There will be further testing in the region in the next week, and the risk level may be updated, Metcalf said. 

Although fall is around the corner, the risk will not necessarily go away. 

“The peak time for transmission of mosquito-borne illness extends through September here in Massachusetts,” public health commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement. 

To avoid mosquito bites when going outdoors, the state Department of Public Health recommends using mosquito repellent and wearing pants, socks and long sleeves. The agency also suggests draining standing water and putting tight-fitting screens on windows to keep mosquitoes out. 

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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