Aug. 12, 2010, 9:41 a.m.
Calling this year's mosquito threat "a major public health concern," the governor announced Tuesday that the state is taking steps to fight back against the growing health threat posed by the eastern equine encephalitis virus.
Gov. Deval Patrick said the levels of EEE that have been detected in mosquitoes are at the highest levels they have been in decades, raising concerns about the potential for human infection.
"After extensive testing, experts at the (Department of Public Health) have recently discovered levels of EEE in mosquito samples that are higher than we have seen in decades. This is a major public health concern for the Plymouth and Bristol county regions," Patrick said.
Aerial spraying has been approved for about 285,000 acres and will begin Wednesday night after dusk in communities in Plymouth and Bristol counties, Patrick said.
"The exact areas to be sprayed were assessed based on mosquito samples, surveillance findings, environmental observations, weather conditions and other factors," Patrick said.
“We want to be sure that families and businesses in these areas are fully aware of the timing and location of aerial spraying in their communities,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach. “We encourage residents in each of these cities and towns to spread the word to their friends and neighbors.”
The unprecedented levels of EEE are being attributed to persistent hot weather and rainfall this summer, Auerbach said.
"This is a serious public health concern we have been monitoring the evidence of EEE risk in the communities in the southeast, and have determined that we are seeing a level of risk that is significantly higher than we have seen in past years. So it is appropriate to take the action steps we can to reduce that risk," Auerbach said.
Health officials said samples from 30 pools have tested positive for EEE and that figure is more than triple what state researchers typically find.
Also, the mosquitoes are considered "hot," which indicates that they're carrying very potent levels of the virus.
Officials said during spraying, residents should keep windows closed and fans and air conditioners off; wash any home-grown fruits or vegetables; and keep pets indoors. The pesticide used in the aerial efforts is the same chemical used in ground spraying, and has been proven safe for humans at the levels being used.
"(Spraying) is an important step in our fight against mosquito-borne illness, but it's not the only one. I urge residents across the state to take simple, common-sense steps to protect themselves from mosquitoes. These include using bug spray and covering up when outdoors, especially during peak mosquito hours of dusk to dawn."
Officials also said if residents have buckets or pails around the house, they're advised against leaving them right side up, because if they collect water and that can be a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, which could very likely be carrying the virus.
While there haven't been any human cases of EEE since 2008, between 2004 and 2006, there were 13 cases, including six deaths.
"Spraying will decrease the risk of EEE; it will not completely eliminate it," Patrick said.
Officials said only a hard frost will eliminate the risk.
Assistant Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Nathan L'Etoile estimated that the spraying operations will cost the state about $1.5 million to $2 million, but warned that cost could rise.
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