Massachusetts officials on Tuesday said they’re bracing for another summer with a high number of cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, a rare but severe neurological illness transmitted by mosquitoes that hit the state particularly hard last summer.
Mosquitoes have already tested positive for EEE in the towns of Wendell and Orange in Franklin County, state Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said as officials discussed the state’s preparations for mosquito season in Plymouth.
She said it's the earliest the virus has been detected in mosquitoes in the state in the last 20 years. No cases have been detected in humans or animals so far.
Gov. Charlie Baker said EEE outbreaks typically last two or three years, so state officials have been planning since the end of last summer, when Massachusetts had its most active season for the virus since the 1950s and led the nation in the number of EEE cases.
Massachusetts had 12 human cases of the virus in 2019, resulting in six deaths.
Nationwide, there were 38 human cases and 15 deaths from EEE across ten states last year: Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Tennessee, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most years, there’s only about seven cases and three deaths from EEE nationwide.
Baker said legislation he filed earlier this year would help improve the state’s response to EEE and other mosquito-borne diseases.
The proposal, which is currently pending in the legislature, would authorize a “coordinated, proactive, statewide approach to mosquito control activities” by the state’s Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board, including “in areas where there is no legislative authority to take action today,” according to the governor’s office.
Meanwhile, local health officials are already stepping up mosquito spraying and testing in areas that were hotspots last year, Bharel said. Officials will also be boosting their public awareness efforts this summer.
Residents should enjoy the outdoors as much as possible during the coronavirus pandemic, but need to avoid times when mosquitoes are most active, such as evenings and early morning hours, Baker and others warned Tuesday. People should also use bug spray and wear long sleeves or pants when possible when outdoors, the officials said.
And horse owners should get their animals vaccinated for EEE, Kathleen Theoharides, Baker’s Secretary for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said.
Eight horses died from the virus last year. There’s no human vaccine for the virus.