The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced the discovery of mosquitos infected by West Nile virus and for the first time this year, announced it has also discovered Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) from a sample taken on Sept. 3 in Pittsfield.
Over the summer, 12 mosquitos tested positive for West Nile. Pittsfield, about 20 miles away from the College, is the closest location to Williamstown to produce a sample containing infected mosquitos. In the Berkshires, samples taken from Richmond, Stockbridge and Sheffield also contained infected mosquitos. According to the Director of Health Services Ruth Harrison, “Some communities in MA have actually changed the hours of after school activities to avoid the dusk to dawn period [to avoid mosquitos].”
Despite these findings, the Department of Public Health lists Williamstown and most areas in Berkshire County at low risk for West Nile virus and a remote risk for EEE. Pittsfield is the only city at elevated risk. It is at low risk for EEE and moderate risk for West Nile, in part because of a resident’s diagnosis with the disease last year.
In response to the discovery of EEE and West Nile, the city of Pittsfield sprayed pesticides on Sept. 7. Mosquitos in Williamstown are not tested by the state, and the town does not spray for mosquitos.
“We haven’t done spraying in my memory, and I’ve been here almost 19 years,” Jeffrey Kennedy, health agent for the Williamstown Board of Health, said. “We used to have a larvacide program but we haven’t had that issue recently.”
West Nile and EEE will remain a concern until the end of mosquito season. According to the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project, the end of mosquito season does not occur until a period of prolonged temperatures below 28 degrees Farhenheit.
“The good thing is the weather is getting cooler now so your biggest issues are going to be during the dusk and early evening hours when you’re going to want to keep covered and use repellent,” Kennedy said. The Department of Public Health also recommends checking screens in windows and doors and removing areas of standing water.
People infected with EEE may suffer from high fever, muscle pain, headache, meningeal irritation, intolerance to light, seizures and altered mental status. Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headache, body ache, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, rash and prolonged fatigue. Both diseases may in rare cases, result in serious neurological conditions. While it is extremely unlikely that anyone will contract either virus, people should still be careful during evening hours and go to the Health Center immediately if symptoms begin. According to Harrison, the Massachusetts Department of Health advices that people use mosquito repellent, especially during the peak mosquito hours between dusk and dawn. Also, during these hours, one should take extra care to use repellent and protective clothing or consider not being outside. As Harrison said, “EEE is rare but very serious.”