West Nile virus alert
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced this week that West Nile virus (WNV) has been found in mosquitoes in the communities of Merrimac, Abington, Worcester, Springfield, Chicopee, Fall River, Somerset and Dedham. West Nile virus has also been found in a blue jay in Boston.
"We are now finding WNV in the greater Boston area, and southeastern and western Massachusetts consistently," said DPH state epidemiologist Dr. Al DeMaria. "People should consider the virus as being established in these areas for the summer. In addition, we are continuing to find virus in new areas; the warm, wet summer is continuing to support mosquito populations and allowing the virus to spread."
In 2007, there were six human cases of WNV in Massachusetts. While WNV can infect people of all ages, people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease. WNV is usually spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.
The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. State health officials recommend rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning. They also urge people to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants, and to apply an insect repellent that includes DEET. DEET products should not be used on infants under two months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30 percent or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age.
Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. The state health officials recommend that residents limit the number of places around their homes for mosquitoes to breed, by either draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty any unused flowerpots and wading pools, and change water in birdbaths frequently. And, don't forget screens.
The state also asks that people report dead crows or blue jays, both of which may be signs that WNV is circulating among the birds and mosquitoes in your area. Call 1-866-MASS WNV to report a dead bird.