NEWBURYPORT — The good news is the warm winter and early spring have summer crops maturing early this year.
The bad news is that health officials say the weather phenomenon has also resulted in an earlier arrival of mosquitoes carrying Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.
“Everything got started early this year,” said Jack Card Jr., director of the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District. “And it’s been dry this summer, and mosquitoes with West Nile virus are more prevalent in dry seasons.”
While Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus have yet to be reported in Greater Newburyport this summer, both diseases have been found in mosquitoes in several communities in the state as well as in southern New Hampshire, he said.
“We found a pool that tested positive for EEE in Topsfield. And a EEE project next to ours found it in Reading and North Reading,” he said. “We’ve had findings of West Nile virus in Methuen, Peabody, Winthrop, Revere and Saugus. Usually, we find West Nile virus in areas closer to Boston, but this year it’s been found in more northern communities, like Andover.”
Spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, EEE causes a rare but serious brain illness. While all ages can get infected, officials say EEE is of significant danger to children under age 15 and adults 50-plus. Residents of communities in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire have contracted EEE in the past.
Mosquitoes prone to carrying diseases tend to breed in pools of standing water associated with man-made structures, like house gutters and street catch basins, as opposed to wetlands, Card said. They don’t need a lot of water, he said.
Card said his organization has been trying to keep on top of the situation by spraying targeted areas as well as setting traps to gather mosquitoes for testing. But aside from hoping for an early frost, the best protection for people is diligence in remaining free of mosquito bites.