The state Department of Public Health (DPH) recently announced that West Nile virus (WNV) has been detected in mosquitoes in Massachusetts for the first time this year. The presence of WNV was confirmed today by the state Public Health Laboratory in a mosquito sample collected on June 29 in Medford. No human or animal cases of WNV or Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) have been detected so far this year. There is no elevated risk level or risk-level change associated with this finding.
“The first WNV infected mosquito of the season is always a signal that it is time to start taking steps to avoid mosquito bites,” said DPH Acting Commissioner Margret Cooke. “WNV is part of summer in Massachusetts and as we head into this long holiday weekend, it is important to remember that while WNV can cause serious illness, there are simple things that you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.”
WNV is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. There were 8 human cases of WNV in 2020. In 2018, there were 49 human cases of WNV infection acquired in Massachusetts – the greatest number of cases the Commonwealth has ever had in a single year. While WNV can infect people of all ages, people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease. Most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms. When present, WNV symptoms tend to include fever and flu-like illness. In rare cases, more severe illness can occur.
“These simple actions can help protect you from mosquito bites and the diseases they can cause,” said state Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown. “The tools for prevention include using a mosquito repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient according to the directions on the label, wearing clothing to reduce exposed skin when weather permits, draining standing water to prevent mosquito breeding, and repairing window screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.”
Additional information, including all WNV and EEE positive results, can be found on the Arbovirus Surveillance Information web page at Mosquito-borne Diseases | Mass.gov, which is updated daily, or by calling the DPH Division of Epidemiology at 617-983-6800.
To Avoid Mosquito Bites
- Apply Insect Repellent When Outdoors. Use a repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient (DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picaridin (KBR 3023), oil of lemon eucalyptus [p-methane 3, 8-diol (PMD)] or IR3535) according to the product label instructions. DEET products should not be used on infants under two months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age.
- Be Aware of Peak Mosquito Hours. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning in areas of high risk.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing to Help Reduce Mosquito Bites. Wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.
Mosquito-Proof Your Home
- Drain Standing Water. Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty unused flowerpots and wading pools and change the water in birdbaths frequently.
- Install or Repair Screens. Keep mosquitoes outside by having tightly-fitting screens on all windows and doors.
Protect Your 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 this to the Department of Agricultural Resources, Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795 and to the DPH by calling 617-983-6800.