Since a mosquito pool tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis in central Barrington last month, health officials have been working to keep track of the issue and inform residents about precautionary measures that can be taken.
“Evenings are now cooling down, which slows the mosquitoes down, but does not stop them,” said Dr. Howard Ginsberg, field station leader of the U.S. Geological Survey, (USGS) at URI. “At night, when the temperature drops to around 60 degrees, there’s less biting than when it’s much warmer, but residents still need to be careful. The approach that the state is taking is to put out appropriate warnings.”
According to Gail Mastrati, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Management, using insecticides and wearing long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk are small measures residents can take that can make a big difference.
“We do trapping on a weekly basis during the summer and it goes through the time of the first hard frost. The Department of Health then tests them and we make the results public,” said Ms. Mastrati.
Dr. Ginsberg said the first mosquitoes infected with EEE are bird biting mosquitos. There were five isolations of mosquitoes with EEE this year and four to five were in the bird biting species. There was one in the bird biting species that occasionally bites people.
“This is a very serious disease, and it is very rare, there are a few mosquito species that are involved before this disease gets to humans, said Ginsberg. “When you start testing positivity in that species, it’s not necessarily a sign of human risk, but you have to be more alert. When the species that bite humans are involved, then you have to worry.”
Al Gettman Ph.D, DEM’s mosquito abatement coordinator, said new mosquitoes have stopped reproducing and more are dying off every day, but they will be around until the first frost.
According to Barrington resident Dr. Joel Park II, M.D, Ph.D, Hospitalist at Rhode Island Hospital, there is no vaccine for EEE and taking precaution by avoiding the mosquitoes is more important than ever.
“EEE has flu like symptoms such as fever, nausea, and headaches, this is why people worry because these symptoms can be mistaken for other things,” said Dr. Park. “With encephalitis, damage is always done, other viruses that mosquitoes and ticks carry can be curable.”
Dr. Park said EEE is still fairly rare and the small percentage of people who do contract EEE is most often children. The only action that can be taken at hospitals for EEE is supportive care, such as treating seizures, treatment for intracranial pressure and other interventions.
With the threat of EEE still in Barrington, worried parents have taken extra steps to try and protect their children.
“It’s pretty concerning to find out there could be mosquitoes in this area that can transmit such an infectious disease. It’s crucial to protect ourselves,” said Dr. Diane King, 14 Congress Road. “I have sprayed my kids with bug repellent with DEET and I even told my daughter not to wear perfume so it won’t attract them.”
Mr. Gettman says although the mosquitoes have become more inactive, EEE should still be taken seriously.
“EEE is out there in our environment. The risk is not over.”