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Public Health Commissioner: Mass. At 'Critical Time' For EEE

The state's first human case of EEE since 2013 was announced by the Department of Public Health in June. (Courtesy of turkletom/Flickr)
The state's first human case of EEE since 2013 was announced by the Department of Public Health in June. (Courtesy of turkletom/Flickr)

Though the calendar has flipped to September and daytime temperatures are a bit cooler and people may no longer have mosquitoes on the mind, Eastern Equine Encephalitis remains a "serious concern," the Massachusetts public health commissioner says.

"Mosquito season is not over yet," Monica Bharel told the Public Health Council on Wednesday. "It's September, school started, fall sports have started. People are not thinking about mosquitoes, but this is a critical time for individuals to protect themselves, so we urge everyone to take personal precautions to prevent mosquito bites. That is the best protection we have."

The mosquito-borne virus EEE has been confirmed in seven people in Massachusetts so far this year, including a Bristol County woman who died of the illness. Cases have also been confirmed in eight horses and one goat.

Risks have been flagged in more than half of the state's 351 communities: 36 are at critical risk for EEE, 42 are at high risk and 115 are at moderate risk, according to the Department of Public Health (DPH).

The DPH and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources on Tuesday announced plans to conduct aerial mosquito spraying in parts of Norfolk, Middlesex and Worcester counties.

"As weather, temperature and equipment conditions permit, plans for subsequent rounds of aerial spraying will include critical and high risk communities in the counties of Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Plymouth," Bharel said.

A supplemental budget that Gov. Charlie Baker filed on Friday included $3.5 million for spraying to reduce the risk of EEE. That bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday for review.

"We put $3.5 million in the budget, it will probably go up," Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan told the Local Government Advisory Commission on Tuesday.

Heffernan said the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs "has brought the planes back to do more spraying."

"So we really applaud DPH's and EEA's aggressive approach to EEE, even this late in the season," he said.

To avoid mosquito bites, Bharel advised that people use bug spray, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay indoors between dusk and dawn.

"Personal behavior change is something we all know is harder to do," Bharel said. "It takes repetitive reminders for all of us."

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