Massachusetts hadn’t seen an active case in a human since 2013. The state is now seeing the beginning of a new, intense cycle of EEE activity that will likely persist for two to three years, state officials told the Globe earlier this week.
EEE was found in horses from Holliston, Medfield, Brookfield, and Granby, bringing the total number of EEE horse cases in the state to seven this year, Massachusetts Department of Public Health officials said in a statement Thursday.
The risk level in those four towns was raised to “critical.” Eric Scott, the athletic director of Medfield High School, said for outside practices and games, students must be off the fields by 7 p.m. because of the EEE risk.
Meanwhile, a number of communities have had their risk level raised to “high,” including Belchertown, Brimfield, Chicopee, East Brookfield, Ludlow, Medway, Millis, North Brookfield, Sherborn, South Hadley, Sturbridge, Walpole, and West Brookfield.
There are now 28 Massachusetts communities considered at critical risk for EEE, 37 at high risk, and another 126 at moderate risk, the DPH said.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has sprayed parts of Bristol, Plymouth, Middlesex, and Worcester counties for mosquitoes, the statement said.
“Spraying does not eliminate the risk of EEE transmission and the public is asked to continue to follow personal protection practices,” the statement said.
State health officials recommend Massachusetts residents take precautions, including using mosquito repellent. People in critical- and high-risk communities should stay inside from dusk to dawn, officials said..
“The peak time for transmission of mosquito-borne illness extends through September here in Massachusetts,” said Dr. Monica Bharel, the DPH’s commissioner.
A horse in Northwood, N.H., also tested positive for EEE Wednesday, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement. This was the state’s first horse infected with EEE this year. Northwood’s EEE risk was elevated to high after the finding.
EEE risk levels were elevated from low to moderate in seven towns near Northwood, the DHHS said.
EEE hits horses harder than humans, said Jake Leon, the department’s director of communication. Horses rarely recover from the illness.
All animals infected with EEE in Massachusetts this year either died or were euthanized, according to the state. A horse can still contract the EEE if it is vaccinated, although the disease is usually less severe, according to the state Department of Public Health. None of the horses that contracted the disease in the state this year were reported as having been vaccinated, according to that agency.
Symptoms of EEE tend to show in humans three to 10 days after being bitten. They include fever, stiff neck, headache, and lack of energy, according to state health officials. The disease can lead to swelling of the brain and neurological damage.
There is no treatment for the disease, and few recover completely. About half the people who who contract EEE die from the infection, while survivors are often permanently disabled, state health officials said.
Residents can take precautions by using mosquito repellent, wearing long sleeves, staying inside from dusk until dawn, repairing damaged window and door screens, and removing standing water from the areas around their home.
“As we head into the Labor Day weekend and the month of September people should not forget to bring and use an EPA-approved mosquito repellent for any outdoor activities,” said Bharel.
Those who own horses should keep the animals in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes, and speak with their veterinarian about mosquito repellents and vaccinations, state officials said.