EEE has residents on edge
With neighboring New Bedford at “critical” risk for the deadly Eastern equine encephalitis virus and a Rochester man becoming the first Massachusetts resident since 2013 to be infected with the mosquito-borne disease, Dartmouth is on alert.
As of August 14, state health officials had Dartmouth’s level as “moderate” but were continuing to trap and test mosquitoes in town.
Youth sports organizers are shortening practices to avoid early evening hours and school officials are considering what schedule changes could be needed for sports and other extracurricular activities if Dartmouth’s threat level were to become critical.
Dartmouth Youth Football and Cheer began its fall practice season on August 5, before the state’s first EEE case was confirmed.
Even at that point, staff shortened practices by an hour to end before mosquitoes started biting.
“It’s a precaution for our players,” said DYFL President Mike Boucher. “We’ve put the curfew on practice and we’re ending practice early so no one gets it.”
Boucher said he does not expect EEE concerns to affect regular season games, which are played in the mornings.
Although no changes have been made to high school athletic schedules, Superintendent Bonny Gifford and Dartmouth High Principal Ross Thibault said they are closely monitoring the situation.
Most fall sports games are in the late afternoons, but football games are played on Friday nights. That could change if the risk level is too high by the start of the fall season.
The high school band could also see its practice schedule affected as band practices are held outdoors late into the night.
The Dartmouth Police Department and UMass Dartmouth Police Department were set to participate in National Night Out New Bedford last week, but the event was canceled due to EEE concerns.
The event will take place instead on be held on August 20, 1-4 p.m. at Ashley Park on Rivet St. in New Bedford.
Although Dartmouth’s risk level remains at “moderate”, Director of Public Health Chris Michaud said that does not mean residents should let their guard down.
EEE, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is a rare virus that is spread by infected mosquitoes that can cause inflammation of the brain.
Only 5 to 10 cases are reported each year in the United States.
There is no specific treatment, and approximately one third of those infected die. Survivors are typically left with mild to severe brain damage, according to the CDC.
The state assesses the risk in each community using a number of mosquito traps. Trap sites are located throughout Dartmouth, New Bedford and Westport.
Of those three communities, only New Bedford was deemed to have a “critical” risk, after which the state completed its first round of aerial spraying of pesticides in the city on August 11.
Michaud said that a variety of scientific criteria is used to determine risk levels, including the species of mosquitoes that are carrying the virus and the habitats in which they are found.
“The risk assessments are not just arbitrary,” Michaud said. “They are science based.”
He noted that a mosquito carrying the virus was found last week in Westport, but it was a species that is known to only feed on birds.
Michaud and state health officials are still urging residents to take precautions such as wearing protective clothing and mosquito repellent as well as limiting outdoor activities, particularly when mosquitoes are most active — usually around dawn and dusk.
Further action by the town will not be taken until the risk level is raised, Michaud said.
If that happens, the state will likely begin spraying pesticides in Dartmouth to lower the number of mosquitoes in the area.
For the latest information about EEE, visit the town Board of Health website at town.dartmouth.ma.us/board-health, or mass.gov/dph/mosquito.