GEORGETOWN — Local officials are moving quickly to protect residents against harmful mosquitoes after a Georgetown man became the fifth person in the state this season to contract the potentially deadly Eastern equine encephalitis virus.
State public health officials confirmed yesterday that a Georgetown man in his 70s was diagnosed with EEE, a serious and sometimes fatal brain infection transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. The unidentified man is being treated at a hospital.
“The person is in a medically induced coma,” Town Administrator Michael Farrell said. “But the prognosis isn’t good.”
Georgetown was already considered at critical risk for EEE based on the death of a horse last month that contracted EEE at a Georgetown barn.
Yesterday’s news led area communities to step up protection efforts by restricting outdoor activities.
In Georgetown, the Board of Health immediately banned all outdoor activities on town property, including school and athletic fields, from 3 p.m. to 9 a.m.
The Georgetown Board of Health also authorized a round of mosquito spraying on public property.
The Board of Health in neighboring Newbury, where the EEE threat remains high, has ordered an outdoor activity ban on town property from dusk until dawn.
Meanwhile, the West Newbury Board of Health, also facing a high threat level, is strongly recommending that all outdoor activities planned for between one hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise be canceled or rescheduled until after the first hard frost.
Officials in Newburyport, where the threat level remains moderate, have not banned outdoor activity at this time, but are strongly advising residents to be vigilant about protecting themselves from mosquitoes and are urging they take personal precautions when outdoors.
While mosquitoes are typically most active at night, Georgetown officials said they were extending the outdoor activity ban on town property into mid-afternoon because the insects are coming out earlier in the day as the weather cools.
“We’re letting the schools have recess, but there’ll be no after-school activities,” Farrell said.
According to Farrell, the town will spray to kill adult mosquitoes as soon as the weather allows. Georgetown has many wetlands where mosquitoes can breed.
“We can’t spray when it’s raining,” Farrell said, explaining why spraying could not occur last night. “But we’re hoping to spray on Wednesday, weather permitting.”
The Georgetown Board of Health also contacted the town’s largest private recreational facility, Black Swan Golf Club, Farrell said. Club officials were asked to post signs letting members and guests know of the serious EEE threat. In addition, the board is offering to include the golf course as part of its spraying protocol.
Farrell said other concerned residents interested in having their properties sprayed should contact Northeast Mosquito Control directly, since the company needs permission to go on private property.
A “Code Red” emergency automated telephone alert was sent to all Georgetown residents yesterday soon after officials got confirmation of the human case of EEE from the state DPH.
The town’s outdoor ban will impact some of the events planned for this weekend’s Georgetown Days celebration. The Camp Denison event on Saturday has been canceled. Meanwhile, the PTA Family Fun Festival on Saturday has been moved from American Legion Park to inside Penn Brook School. It will go from 2 to 7 p.m. and still feature live music, food, more than 30 vendors, puppy adoptions, children’s activities, demonstrations and more.
As of yesterday, all other Georgetown Days events were scheduled to proceed as planned. Updates will be posted online at www.georgetownfun.org in the blue bar on the left side of the home page.
Farrell expected the schedule for school sports games and practices to be affected by the ban, but deferred to school officials for specifics. However, since the high school’s home football games are held on town property, Farrell said it’s likely the games will either have to be moved to opponents’ fields or start earlier so that they can conclude by 3 p.m.
After the unvaccinated horse in Georgetown, which was boarded at an unregistered barn, died of EEE, officials ordered town-wide spraying on Aug. 24, Farrell said. The EEE threat level was raised to critical in Georgetown and the Board of Health advised residents to reschedule outdoor evening activities. Outdoor sports practices planned for after dusk were called off for five days. However, school was not in session at the time.
The Georgetown horse case also led the state DPW to raise the EEE threat level to high in neighboring Newbury, Rowley, West Newbury, Groveland and Boxford. The DPH strongly recommended that communities with elevated threat levels curtail evening outdoor events between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active, for the remainder of the mosquito season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Eastern equine encephalitis is a rare illness in humans; only a few cases are reported in the U.S. each year. But it is one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases, with an approximately 33 percent mortality rate and significant brain damage in most survivors. The illness poses the greatest risk to those under age 15 or over 50.
Most cases of EEE occur in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, according to the CDC. Most persons infected have no apparent illness. Severe cases of EEE (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures or coma.
This year, cases of both EEE and West Nile virus, another vector-borne disease spread by mosquitoes, have increased markedly across the country. As of yesterday, there were 15 cases of WNV in the state.
There is a vaccine that can be administered to horses to protect them from EEE, as the disease is almost always fatal in horses. But there is no vaccine for humans.
More information, including all WNV and EEE positive results from 2012, can be found at www.mass.gov/dph/wnv or by calling the DPH Epidemiology Program at 617-983-6800.
Information about EEE and reports of EEE activity in Massachusetts during 2012 can be found on the state DPH website at www.mass.gov/dph/wnv.
Correspondent Jen Solis contributed to this report.
State and local officials are issuing the following warnings to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses:
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. If you are outdoors at any time and notice mosquitoes around you, take steps to avoid being bitten by moving indoors, covering up and/or wearing repellent,
Clothing can help reduce mosquito bites. Wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.
Apply insect repellent when you go outdoors. Use a repellent with DEET, permethrin, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus, according to the instructions on the product label. DEET products should not be used on infants under 2 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 3 years of age. Permethrin products are intended for use on items such as clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear and should not be applied to skin.
Mosquito-proof your home by draining standing water. Many mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or getting rid of items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty any unused flowerpots and wading pools and change water in birdbaths frequently.
Install or repair screens. Some mosquitoes like to come indoors. Keep them outside by having tightly fitting screens on all of your windows and doors