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.
“When people don’t see a lot of mosquitoes around them, they don’t think they have to wear repellent, but they do,” he said. “You need to take precautions.”
The Newburyport Health Department is recommending residents take the following steps to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes and reducing the chance of infection:
Outdoor activities from dawn to dusk, peak hours when mosquitoes are most active, should be rescheduled when possible. If not, cover up and wear insect repellent, whether or not mosquitoes can be seen. While it may be uncomfortable in hot weather, wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from skin.
Recommended repellents are those with DEET, permethrin, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus. They should always be applied according to the instructions on the product labels. DEET products should not be used on infants under 2 months old. On older children, DEET should only be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under age 3. 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 residences. Limit the number of places mosquitoes breed by getting rid of items that hold water; check rain gutters and drains, empty unused flowerpots and wading pools and change water in bird baths frequently.
Install or repair screens. Keep mosquitoes outside by having tightly fitting screens on all windows and doors.
For more information on West Nile virus or EEE, visit the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s website at www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/ or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/EasternEquineEncephalitis/. Area residents with questions about mosquitoes or how to control them can call Card at 978-463-6630.