None of the four Cape Ann communities has yet confirmed a case of the dangerous and potentially deadly mosquito-borne viruses that have turned up in tests from samples around the area and across the state.
But residents in Gloucester, Manchester, Essex and Rockport should not take solace that the disease has somehow passed the region by.
State health officials are warning residents across the region to protect themselves from mosquito bites as more cases of West Nile virus crop up across the state. And while there’s been no confirmation in Essex or Manchester, a second pool of mosquitoes has tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis in nearby Hamilton, while both the West Nile Virus and EEE have been confirmed in Peabody.
In all, 14 cities and towns from Lynnfield to Amesbury and Newburyport have turned up positive tests for EEE or West Nile. Hamilton is slated to carry out a second round of spraying for mosquitoes tonight — while Manchester also carried out a night of spraying Aug. 23 in the Pine Street area north of Route 128, approaching the Hamilton line.
Last week, a Newton woman was confirmed to be recovering from West Nile – the fourth confirmed human infection in Massachusetts this year. While the number of mosquitoes detected with EEE has fallen off slightly, detection of West Nile is on the rise, according to an official at the Department of Public Health.
So far this season, four people have been infected with West Nile, and one with EEE, according to state health officials.
“Over the last three weeks or so, West Nile has been dramatically increasing,” said Dr. Catherine Brown, state public health veterinarian. “It is very high.”
Brown said the “bad news” is that the number of communities with West Nile-infected mosquitoes could be much higher, since some communities are not tested. Only communities that are a part of one of the nine mosquito control projects test.
“What this tells us is there is a lot of West Nile everywhere,” Brown said. “At this point, people should consider that West Nile virus is present throughout the state.”
Essex is among those communities that cannot test and is largely unable to identify the viruses .
Since Essex has decided against enrolling in the regional program for many years, the town is on its own for carrying out any testing and prevention measures.
Membership in the Northeast Mosquito Control District costs around $40,000 a year, with a required three-year membership commitment, according to Essex’s Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki.
So, lacking the ability to test and spray, the town is encouraging individuals to be aware of the threat and take precautions, according to Board of Health Administrator Elaine Wozny.
“If it’s in Hamilton on the Essex border, mosquitoes don’t pay attention to town lines,” Wozny has said, explaining that disease-carrying mosquitoes could already be in town. “We’ve had a few inquiries as to whether Essex is spraying. Unfortunately, the answer is pretty much where it has to be.”
Other communities that have carried out spraying programs to date include Wenham, Ipswich, Middleton and Peabody.
The initial symptoms of EEE include stiff neck, fever, lack of energy and headache. Individuals younger than 15 and older than 50 are thought to be at the greatest risk of being infected.
Gloucester’s Public Health Director Noreen M. Burke cautioned residents to take preventative action by repairing window screens, using netting on baby carriages, wearing long sleeves and pants during peek mosquito hours- between dusk and dawn- and also dumping and clearing all standing water.
West Nile virus was first found in Massachusetts in 2000. There were bad outbreaks in 2002-2003, with 22 and 18 human infection cases, respectively.
Since then, the number of cases hasn’t hit those levels, according to Brown.
Staff Writer Marjorie Nesin contributed to this story.