DPH raises West Nile Virus risk from remote to low

Health officials advise Island residents to take common sense precautions, especially in evening and early morning hours, against mosquitoes. — File photo by Tim Johnson

Updated 1:30 pm, Wednesday

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Tuesday raised the risk of contracting West Nile Virus from “remote” to “low,” for the entire Island, after a mosquito sample collected in Tisbury on July 25 tested positive for the virus. West Nile Virus can cause illnesses that range from a mild fever to encephalitis or meningitis.

According to state health officials, a “low” risk means multiple cases of West Nile Virus in humans are unlikely and that no human infections have been identified this year.

The mosquito was trapped as part of the Dukes County mosquito testing program, in the Cranberry Acres area off Lambert’s Cove Road, according to Tisbury assistant health agent Maura Valley.

“We’re not taking any further action, other than getting the word out and trying to educate the public,” Ms. Valley said. “If we started seeing a lot more positive mosquitoes, I think more would be done.”

The virus is most commonly spread by certain species of mosquitoes that feed on infected birds and then transmit the virus to humans or horses. People of all ages can be infected, but people over 50 are at higher risk for severe infection. Last year seven people and one horse statewide were infected with West Nile Virus. From 2000 to 2010, 67 people were confirmed to have been infected with West Nile Virus in Massachusetts. Six of them died.

Local health officials advise Island residents to take common sense precautions. They include using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and long pants when outdoors, and perhaps rescheduling outdoor activities planned for evening or early morning hours when mosquitoes are most actively feeding. Other precautions include repairing screens and discarding standing water. Standing water in, for instance, unused flower pots or birdbaths makes a place for mosquitoes to breed and multiply.