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Early EEE Detection in State Points to Need for Vigilance this Summer
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:53PM / Tuesday, July 07, 2020
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PLYMOUTH, Mass. — For nearly four months, Gov. Charlie Baker has addressed the media almost daily about a disease first discovered last year.
On Tuesday, he switched gears to remind residents of a more familiar deadly threat: eastern equine encephalitis.
"I know I speak for the lieutenant governor and myself when I say how much we appreciate the opportunity to speak about something other than COVID," Baker joked during an appearance at the headquarters of the Plymouth County Mosquito Control Project.
But things turned serious as Baker and other other officials talked about EEE, a mosquito-borne illness that infected 12 Bay State residents and killed six in 2019.
"We really can't speculate about what [2020] will look like," Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said. "What we can do is look back at the patterns we have seen in the past. What we've seen from previous years is that triple-E tends to be in two- to three-year cycles.
"That's why at the end of last season we began right away planning for this season, assuming we might see triple-E in high numbers again."
The early data is concerning. The commonwealth found its earliest instance of EEE in a mosquito in 20 years when it was detected in Franklin County on July 1, Bharel said.
That discovery and another in the Western Mass county came from one of the surveillance and trapping sites the commonwealth added this year in response to last year's outbreak.
Increased surveillance is just one part of a state response that included "larvacide applications … targeting almost 20,000 acres in 110 member communities in 10 counties from the Berkshires to Cape Cod," Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said.
Soon, Bay Staters will start seeing another part of that response, a stepped up public awareness campaign that includes a new website rolled out on Tuesday.
And, just like the commonwealth has been pushing personal responsibility (social distancing, hand-washing, face coverings) to slow the spread of COVID-19, the campaign against EEE includes promoting measures that individuals can take to protect themselves.
"We do think it's important people should be outside," Baker said. "We've been saying people should be outside since March. The sun is a very important part of … happiness and positivity for people. I love the fact that the parks have been full for a long time now.
"But once again, our key message is we will do the things we can do as government entities, working with our colleagues in the private sector to limit the exposure and the outbreak associated with EEE. … But there are a lot of things people can do as individuals, and if we're all smart about this, we can limit the impact."
Theoharides echoed that sentiment.
"There is not, unfortunately, a [EEE] treatment or vaccine for humans," she said. "Triple-E, as the governor said, is a very serious disease that can impact people of all ages in every region across Massachusetts.
"It's important that we all remain personally vigilant against the risk of the mosquito-borne illness. Spraying for mosquitoes does not eliminate the risk of triple-E transmission, and we ask the public to follow personal protective practices."
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