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EEE findings prompt towns’ spraying

By David Rattigan
Globe Correspondent / August 16, 2012
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Mosquito control experts were taking an aggressive approach to preventing the potential spread of Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus this week, with spraying in several communities.

Late last week, there were positive reports for EEE in mosquito pools in Reading and Topsfield. In response, there was spraying this week in both communities, plus some nearby towns.

There also were recent findings of West Nile.

In the positive findings reported last week, mosquitoes carrying the virus were located in Chelmsford, Dracut, Methuen, Peabody, and Revere. Chelmsford, Peabody, and Dracut were sprayed Monday night.

Public health officials are warning residents to protect themselves by wearing mosquito repellent with DEET; wearing long sleeves and pants; and being mindful of outdoor activity at the peak mosquito hours of dusk and dawn.

To discourage West Nile, it is also advising residents to clear any container or other repository of standing water, often a breeding area for the type of mosquito that carries the virus.

In results reported from the state’s Department of Public Health lab, a pool of mammal-biting mosquitoes from Reading collected on Aug. 1 tested positive for EEE, which is often fatal.

The lab also reported a positive sample from a pool of bird-biting mosquitoes collected on Aug. 7 in Topsfield.

In Reading, the spraying was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday evening, and outdoor activities were canceled both nights.

The human-biting mosquitoes infected with EEE are the first this season that have been found beyond Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts.

In Topsfield, Pye Brook Park — where the sample was taken — was sprayed on Monday night, and a targeted spraying of nearby streets in the town’s northern quadrant was scheduled for Wednesday.

“The state considers Topsfield low-risk, but there is a risk nonetheless, so we ordered the preemptive targeted spraying,” said the Board of Health agent, John Coulon.

The Northeast Mass. Mosquito Control & Wetlands Management District also did barrier spraying of schools and athletic fields in neighboring Boxford on Monday, and the Board of Health canceled activities at those sites for two days to let the pesticides dissipate.

The Boxford Board of Health chairwoman, Louise Kress, said that her board was following a protocol it created a month ago, in response to concerns in the southern part of the state, where EEE was showing up in mammal-biting mosquitoes in large numbers.

The bird-biting mosquitoes such as those found in Topsfield also will sometimes feed on humans.

The East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project also has scheduled targeted spraying for North Reading on Thursday, as well as scheduling spraying in Burlington, which has had a higher-than-average mosquito population.

Although both EEE and West Nile virus are potentially fatal to humans, EEE is considered the more dangerous of the two, although it is also more difficult to catch.

“EEE is life-altering,” Kress said. “It can lead to severe crippling and death.”

The state Department of Public Health also reported the first human case of EEE in the state last week.

A man in his 60s from the Metrowest region is believed to have caught the disease while traveling in the mid-Atlantic region.

Jack Card, director for the Northeast Mass. Mosquito Control & Wetlands Management District, said that several communities in the district were considering targeted spraying, including those with West Nile findings, and those bordering the EEE-positive samples in Topsfield and Reading.

“We’re having conversations with a lot of towns right now,” he said, “and we’re also awaiting the results of our data collection this week, which will come on Friday.’’

Mosquito control experts cite the warm winter and abnormally hot summer as two reasons for the increased numbers of mosquitoes carrying the two viruses, said David Henley, superintendent for the East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project.

“And we’ve still got six weeks to go in the mosquito season.”

David Rattigan can be reached at DRattigan.Globe@­

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