By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – The Eastern equine encephalitis virus has been detected in Amesbury, prompting city officials to order a targeted mosquito spraying to combat the potentially fatal disease.
According to the state Department of Public Health, the virus was found in mosquitoes captured in the northwest quadrant of town near Newton Road. In response, Mayor Thatcher Kezer has ordered a spraying of that area, which will be conducted by Northeast Mosquito Control after sunset on Monday assuming fair weather conditions.
Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, is a rare but deadly mosquito-borne illness. The virus can infect people of all ages, but typically people younger than age 15, over age 50, or who have weaker immune systems are most at risk of serious illness.
Local officials have been on high alert for EEE since the virus was detected over the Merrimac border in mid-August. The virus has also been detected in Methuen and Topsfield, and over the course of the summer there have also been numerous reports of West Nile virus in Amesbury and the surrounding communities.
Earlier this month, Northeast Mosquito Control conducted a region-wide spray of both Amesbury and Salisbury to try and knock down the mosquito population and help slow the spread of the viruses. Kezer said the city saw a notable drop in mosquito activity after the spraying, but it’s impossible to be sure the threat has been eliminated until after the first hard frost of the year.
Mosquito-borne illnesses like EEE and West Nile virus tend to be most prevalent in areas with a lot of swamps and wetlands, and officials say that the number of reports of virus activity in the area has increased in recent years.
In addition to the spraying, residents are also being urged to take simple precautions to help protect themselves from mosquito bites. Among these, residents should also avoid being outside between dusk and dawn, when mosquito activity is at its peak, and if outside, residents should wear long-sleeved clothing and apply insect repellent.
Residents should also drain standing water from rain gutters, fountains, flowerpots and birdbaths, and install or repair screens to keep mosquitoes from getting inside in the first place.
Any residents who live in the affected area and don’t want their property sprayed should contact Northeast Mosquito Control at 978-463-6630 and leave their name and address. For more information on EEE and what precautions to take, visit the state DPH’s website at www.mass.gov/dph.