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EEE Detected in Mosquitoes Earlier Than Anticipated In Massachusetts

A mosquito.
Malcolm Tattersall
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/malcolm_nq

The risks of COVID-19 transmission are higher indoors, and as summer ramps up, Massachusetts is beginning to see signs that another public health hazard is emerging again outdoors.

Three days after announcing the first case of the season, state public health officials on Monday said the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus has been detected in a second mosquito sample. This one was collected July 5 in the Franklin County community of Wendell.

The first EEE case was detected in Orange, also in Franklin County.

Massachusetts officials now consider the EEE risks to be moderate in the communities of Athol, Wendell, New Salem and Orange.

There were 12 human cases of EEE in Massachusetts in 2019 with six deaths. The disease can affect people of all ages and is generally spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Officials are now cautioning everyone to again begin taking precautions to avoid getting bit by mosquitoes.

"We are seeing EEE activity in mosquitoes very early in the season," said Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel. "We will continue to conduct additional surveillance, including trapping and testing mosquitoes in the region over the next several weeks to better inform our guidance to local communities."

State Epidemiologist Catherine Brown said the "second early finding reinforces our concern about EEE activity this season."

The first human EEE case last year was announced on Aug. 10, 2019, and the first human case of West Nile virus was announced on Sept. 11, 2019. Last year, risks were elevated to high and critical levels in scores of communities throughout the summer, and aerial spraying was deployed in many areas.

In April, during the COVID-19 surge in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation to modernize the state's approach to the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses, saying that many cities and towns lack entities engaged in mosquito control and are not part of larger control projects.

Baker wrote that the "current framework for mosquito control dates to the 1970s and does not allow for the sort of coordinated statewide efforts that are necessary to prevent and combat these viruses and the mosquitoes that carry them." He said he filed the bill after the state last year "experienced unprecedented levels of EEE prevalence, illness, and deaths."

The Senate approved a mosquito control bill (S 2757) in June, and it is pending before the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would give the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board new powers to fight mosquito-borne illnesses when the state Department of Public Health determines there is an elevated risk.

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