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West Nile Virus Appears in Massachusetts’ Mosquitoes

By Chris Williams on August 11, 2016.

While much of the country is waiting to see whether Zika virus will be coming to a neighborhood near them, we actually have a more immediate mosquito concern here in New England. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced in late July that West Nile Virus has been found in mosquito samples taken in Boston, Waltham, and Arlington. Earlier in the summer, positive samples were also found in Worcester, Brookline, and Malden.

Don’t Panic, Just Be Wary of Mosquitoes

What does this mean for those of us hoping to enjoy the rest of the Massachusetts summer outdoors? It’s not cause for serious alarm, experts say, since there have been no human cases reported so far. But it does mean that you should take extra steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. To that end, the state has raised the risk levels for human infection in Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Cambridge, Newton, Waltham, and Watertown from low to moderate.

“Zika virus is likely to remain an imported disease where people who are travelling are at risk, what we really need to focus on here in Massachusetts, with our local health partners, is the transmission of West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis,” said Catherine Brown, State Public Health Veterinarian.

Both West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) are spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Several different species of mosquitoes are involved. Symptoms of both diseases include headaches, fevers, and chills. Most healthy people don’t get sick from West Nile, but some can have serious symptoms including inflammation of the brain. EEE is less common but can be much more serious, causing coma and death. Dogs and horses are especially susceptible to these diseases.

Most Cases Occur in Late Summer

Although West Nile Virus has not reared its head yet this summer, there’s still plenty of summer left (see It’s Late Summer…Are Mosquitoes Still a Disease Threat?). Outbreaks of West Nile are influenced by weather, number of birds that are carrying the virus, number of mosquitoes that spread the virus, and human behavior. You are at risk of mosquito-transmitted diseases until a hard frost kills the mosquitoes.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health says that the best way to avoid these mosquito diseases is the diligent use of insect repellent when outdoors. Choose a produce that contains DEET, permethrin, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Use and reapply according to label directions.

See also Mosquito-Transmitted Diseases on the Increase and Choosing and Using Insect Repellents.

Photo Credit : Public Domain

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