NEWS

Risk elevated for West Nile virus, EEE

Alice C. Elwell

Much of the region is under an elevated risk for Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.

The state Department of Public Health on Wednesday assessed the risk at Level 4, which comes with a warning for towns and schools to consider rescheduling outdoor events.

Five towns are under the threat of both West Nile and EEE, Raynham, Easton, Mansfield, Brockton and Foxboro, said Wayne Andrews, superintendent for the Bristol County Mosquito Control Project. He said this is the first time EEE and West Nile have been found at the same time in the same towns.

Another nine towns are under a Level 4 threat for EEE, including Taunton and Norton, Andrews said. A Level 4 risk is considered high for contracting the virus, while Level 5 is the critical point, Andrews said. Under current guidelines, Andrews said, the DPH is responsible for risk assessment and can order aerial spraying when the risk reaches Level 5.

A human case of EEE or multiple cases of human-biting mosquitoes would trigger a Level 5 threat.

Andrews said the virus is in several different species of mosquitoes that bite humans.

"There's a lot of virus out there," he said.

The virus has spilled over into "bridge vectors," which are mosquitoes that bring West Nile or EEE to the human population.

Raymond Zucker, superintendent of the Plymouth County Mosquito Control Project, said there have been 10 positive pools of EEE and two of West Nile in his district.

Since EEE is surfacing close to the Hockomock Swamp, which is a breeding grounds for the virus, Zucker has been spraying a three-mile radius of downtown Bridgewater and West Bridgewater on a daily basis.

In Kingston resident received a pre-recorded message warning them of the risk on Wednesday.

In recent years, Middleboro has been the epicenter for both viruses, but on Wednesday only one pool of mosquitoes infected with West Nile had been found this year, said Middleboro Health Officer Jeanne C. Spalding.

She attributes the lack of virus in her town to an aggressive ground spraying program instituted by Plymouth County Mosquito Control.

"They set a spray schedule early on and hit most of the problem areas. They've been on top of it," Spalding said.

Spalding said schools are set to begin on Sept. 5 and school grounds have been sprayed nearly every week since June.

"In this type of weather, West Nile virus proliferates," said Louis E. Tartaglia, Brockton's executive health director.

There has been one positive pool of West Nile found in the city and now Tartaglia is trying to get the schools, playgrounds and parks sprayed for a second time before children go back to school.

This week he issued an advisory to both public and parochial schools, "letting them know not to let their guard down."

Tartaglia said the entire West Side of the city has been sprayed and now he's mapping out the southeast section with county officials.

Last year Tartaglia banned outdoor activities at night, at schools, playgrounds and even golf courses.

Tartaglia said the risk level has not reached the critical stage that would trigger an aerial spraying, but he added, "I would like to see the state spray twice this year and twice next year."

He said aerial spraying three years in a row would knock down the mosquito population. Last year EEE reached critical levels and the state sprayed about 159,000 acres by plane in August.

The DPH held a phone conference Wednesday with local boards of health, Tartaglia said. Officials were made aware of the threat, but no plans for aerial spraying were discussed.

Andrews said last Friday two Hungarian partridges from Raynham died from EEE. The virus has not been reported in any horses. Chase Veterinary Clinic in Middleboro treats over 800 horses and Dr. Bruce G. Chase said his practice has not seen any suspect cases.

- The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.)