NEWTON — A mosquito pool has tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis, and town officials are immediately moving to smoke out the threat by spraying school grounds and other targeted locations with insecticide.
The Newton pool is the fourth to test positive in New Hampshire this year, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Last month, infected mosquitoes turned up in test pools in Brentwood, Danville and Newfields. Also in September, an emu tested positive for EEE in Barnstead.
Meanwhile, even though it seems state officials are beating the same drum, they still want people to take precautions because mosquitoes continue to pose a threat until the first hard frost, typically in mid-October.
EEE, which can be fatal, is carried by mosquitoes which have fed on infected birds.
Robert Leverone, Newton's health officer, said the selectmen and Board of Health discussed the options and decided to hire Dragon Mosquito, based in Stratham, to spray to control the adult mosquito population.
The trucks will work tomorrow night, weather permitting, between 5 and 9 at the elementary and middle schools, Greenie Park, Packer Meadows Senior Housing and the Willow Grove Trailer Park.
"These are areas where people would be most susceptible," Leverone said.
Danville and Atkinson also have sprayed to kill adult mosquitoes after pools in Danville and Brentwood tested positive.
Newton schools took steps to protect children from the risk of EEE two weeks ago, according to School Superintendent Keith Pfeifer. As soon as state officials reported pools had tested positive in neighboring Danville and Brentwood, the school district rescheduled sports practices so the youngsters are off the fields before sunset.
Dragon Mosquito did apply insecticides to control mosquito larvae earlier this year, said Leverone, who learned about the Newton mosquito pool yesterday morning. He immediately checked with school officials to make sure games and sports practices end before sunset. Leverone asked the district to ask out-of-district schools to follow the same protocol.
"The first line of defense," he said, "is prevention, prevention, prevention. People have to be vigilant outside at dawn and dusk, use insect repellent, and wear long sleeves and pants."
Leverone said the hope is still that this part of the state will see an early frost, which will end the threat.
No human cases of EEE have been reported this year. Last year, three New Hampshire residents contracted EEE, including a Newton man, who recovered at home. In September 2005, Kelly Labell, 20, of Newton became the first person in New Hampshire to die of the disease. The same year, six other people became sick with EEE, and a second person died.
Sarah MacGregor, president of Dragon Mosquito, said experts did expect the number of infected mosquito pools to fall this year. But because of all the rain, more mosquitoes hatched than in past years, and they are hanging on, despite the cold weather.
"EEE is a rare disease, and it's difficult to study," she said.
MacGregor said she hopes the larvicides played a role, but health officials also believe the disease runs in cycles.
"This would be the fifth year for us," she said. "So, we thought if, in fact, this disease runs in cycles, it's going to be on the decline."
Jason Stull, a state public health veterinarian, said no one is yet sure if New Hampshire will follow the Bay State's experience with EEE, where the disease historically has declined for 10 years at a time and then spiked again.
Stull said New Hampshire does not have a lot of data on EEE, and tracking the pattern is complicated because some towns use larvicide and some do not. Although the state provides money for mosquito control, the decision to use larvicide and how much to use is made at the town level.
Stull said the larvicides may have helped reduce the number of infected mosquitoes, but no one can be sure.
"It's getting toward the end of the season, but people definitely need to continue to take it seriously," he said.
EEE symptoms resemble an influenza virus: a sudden and intense fever, a headache of increasing intensity and muscle aches.