The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced Tuesday (Aug. 29th) the first two human cases of West Nile virus (WNV) in state residents this year. One individual is a female in her 70s who was exposed to the virus in another part of the country. The second individual is a male in his 40s who was exposed in Middlesex County, an area already known to be at moderate risk.
The risk of human infection with WNV is moderate in the Greater Boston area (Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk counties), and in parts of Berkshire, Bristol, Hampden, Hampshire, Plymouth, and Worcester counties. There are no additional risk level changes indicated at this time.
“This is the first time that West Nile virus infection has been identified in Massachusetts residents this year,” said Public Health Commissioner Robert Goldstein, MD, PhD. “August and September are the months when most people are exposed to West Nile virus in Massachusetts. Populations of mosquitoes that can carry and spread this virus are fairly large this year and we have seen recent increases in the number of WNV-positive mosquito samples from multiple parts of the Commonwealth.”
In 2022, there were eight human cases of WNV infection identified in Massachusetts. WNV is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. While WNV can infect people of all ages, people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease. Most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms. When present, WNV symptoms tend to include fever and flu-like illness. In rare cases, more severe illness can occur.
“We are coming to the unofficial end of summer but mosquitoes with West Nile virus will persist for several more months,” said Dr. Catherine M. Brown, State Epidemiologist. “To avoid mosquito bites, use a repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient, wear clothing to reduce exposed skin, drain standing water and repair window screens. We also encourage everyone to regularly visit DPH’s mosquito-borne diseases web pages to stay informed on when and where WNV activity is occurring.”
People have an important role to play in protecting themselves and their loved ones from illnesses caused by mosquitoes.
Avoid Mosquito Bites
Apply Insect Repellent when Outdoors. Use a repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient (DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picaridin (KBR 3023), oil of lemon eucalyptus [p-Menthane-3,8-diol (PMD)] or IR3535) according to the instructions on the product label. 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.
Be Aware of Peak Mosquito Hours. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning in areas of high risk.
Clothing Can Help Reduce Mosquito Bites. Wearing long-sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.
Mosquito-Proof Your Home
Drain Standing Water. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty unused flowerpots and wading pools and change the water in birdbaths frequently.
Install or Repair Screens. Keep mosquitoes outside by having tightly fitting screens on all windows and doors.
Protect Your Animals
Animal owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools – especially after heavy rains. Water troughs provide excellent mosquito breeding habitats and should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months to reduce mosquitoes near paddock areas. Horse owners should keep horses in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes. Owners should also speak with their veterinarian about mosquito repellents approved for use in animals and vaccinations to prevent WNV and EEE. If an animal is suspected of having WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to the Department of Agricultural Resources, Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795, and to the Department of Public Health by calling 617-983-6800.
More information, including all WNV and EEE positive results, can be found on the Arbovirus Surveillance Information web page at Mosquito-borne Diseases | Mass.gov or by calling the DPH Division of Epidemiology at 617-983-6800.