West Nile virus risk raised from low to moderate

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) recently announced it is raising the risk level for West Nile virus in all Massachusetts towns and cities from low to moderate, according to a press release.

Public health commissioner Monica Bharel is quoted in the release describing the “hot, humid weather in Massachusetts combined with frequent heavy rainfall” as being prime conditions for mosquitoes carrying the virus to breed and spawn.

“I strongly encourage everyone to keep using insect repellent, and to be especially aware of mosquito activity at dusk and dawn, when the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes is greatest. Move indoors if you are getting bitten,” Bharel is quoted.

Dukes County manager Martina Thornton said there have been no recorded cases of the mosquito species that carries West Nile in Dukes County.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that mosquitoes carrying the virus were found in five Cape Cod towns, including Falmouth.

According to the release, people over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of severe disease resulting from West Nile virus, although people of any age can be infected. Most people with West Nile will show no early symptoms. When present, symptoms include fever, body aches, skin rash, and headache. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, 8 out of 10 people infected with West Nile show no symptoms whatsoever, while about one in five will develop flulike symptoms.

About one in 150 people can develop serious symptoms like encephalitis and meningitis, according to the CDC.

“August and September are the months when most human cases occur,’’ DPH state epidemiologist Catherine Brown is quoted as saying in the release. “That’s why we are taking this step today so together we can help keep people from getting sick.”

The DPH also suggests wearing long sleeves, pants, and socks when outdoors during peak mosquito hours. Draining standing water from tires, birdbaths, drains, and gutters can limit areas where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Pet owners should be wary of mosquitoes around their animals, and should keep animals inside to reduce risk of West Nile. If an animal is suspected of having a mosquito-transmitted disease, the owner is required to contact the Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795, and the DPH by calling 617-983-6800.

More information on mosquito-borne diseases can be found at mass.gov/dph/mosquito.