BOSTON —The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced on Tuesday that 36 additional communities, including Westfield and Southwick, are now at moderate risk for West Nile virus (WNV), bringing the total number of communities at moderate risk to 59 spre`ad across eight counties. Moderate risk means mosquito activity is substantial enough that people should use personal protection to avoid being bitten by a mosquito.
The eight counties are Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Suffolk counties. The Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts and Worcester and its surrounding communities are experiencing more West Nile virus positive mosquito activity this year than in a typical season, said DPH Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown.
While there have been no human cases of WNV this year, Dr. Brown warned that “August and early September are when we see most of our WNV infections in people.” In 2016, there were 16 human cases of WNV infection identified in Massachusetts. While WNV can infect persons of all ages, people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease.
Noble Hospital Infection Preventionist Ruth Bushey said they have not seen any cases in Westfield, but are actively surveying cases. “We’re working with the Department of Public Health to make sure we’re prepared,” Bushey said. She said there are meetings scheduled, and bulletins coming in regularly from the DPH. She said the hospital is on “careful alert” and is “prepared.”
“So far, nobody has come in asking to be tested,” said Troy Chilson, Physician Assistant at Noble Urgent Care. Chilson said there is no treatment, vaccine or anti-viral medications for the disease. However, he said, 70% to 80% of people who are bitten by a mosquito with the virus show no symptoms at all.
One in five will have a fever, headache, body aches, joint aches or rashes accompanied by fatigue and weakness that may last for weeks or months.
Chilson said less than one percent will experience severe symptoms of the West Nile Virus such as encephalitis, meningitis, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis, taking weeks or months to recover, and which can in some cases be permanent.
Chilson said prevention is important. He recommended using bug repellent containing DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus. He also suggested wearing long sleeves and pants from dusk to dawn, repairing screens in the home, and removing standing water around the home.
Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. The DPH recommends limiting the number of places for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty any unused flowerpots and wading pools, and change the water in birdbaths frequently.
The DPH also recommends protecting animals. Animal owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools – especially after heavy rains. Water troughs provide excellent mosquito breeding habitats and should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months to reduce mosquitoes near paddock areas. Horse owners should keep horses in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes. Owners should also speak with their veterinarian about mosquito repellents approved for use in animals and vaccinations to prevent WNV and EEE.
If an animal is suspected of having WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to DAR, Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795 and to the Department of Public Health by calling 617-983-6800.
More information, including all WNV and EEE positive results, can be found on the Arbovirus Surveillance Information web page at www.mass.gov/dph/mosquito or by calling the DPH Epidemiology Program at 617-983-6800.