METHUEN – State health officials have raised the threat level to “high” in Methuen after detecting the West Nile virus in multiple mosquito pools in the city.

The elevated threat level is a warning to city residents to do more to protect themselves from mosquito bites, which could infect them with the deadly West Nile virus.

Methuen is one of several communities across the state where there is a heightened level of concern about the virus after yesterday’s announcement of four additional human cases – including one in which a Worcester man in his 60s died of the illness.

Health officials also confirmed the diagnosis of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in a horse and completed investigation in the case of a Worcester County resident who died of EEE last month.

These developments prompted the state to raise the WNV and EEE threat level designations in every Massachusetts community to “moderate” unless already designated at a higher level.

“Taken together, all of these findings point to the fact that the threat of mosquito-borne illness is very real in Massachusetts no matter where you live,” DPH State Epidemiologist Dr. Al DeMaria said.

“Keep using insect repellent and avoid outdoor activities at dusk and after nightfall until the first hard frost, when we can be sure that the threat of mosquitoes has passed,” DeMaria said.

The state has previously urged communities that have been designated at either “critical” or “high” risk for the mosquito-borne diseases to cancel any planned evening outdoor events for the remainder of the season until the first hard frost.

Several communities, particularly in the southeastern part of the state, have scheduled high school football games for during the day on Saturdays instead of Friday or Saturday nights.

It’s not clear how Methuen city officials will deal with the elevated designation. Mayor Stephen Zanni could not be reached for comment last night. He did not return messages left on his home and cell phones and his email account.

City officials ordered mosquito control workers to spray pesticide along all city streets in July after a mosquito trap in central Methuen tested positive for West Nile virus. So far, there have been no documented human cases of the virus in Methuen.

WNV-infected mosquitoes have been found in 106 communities from nine counties so far during this year, according to state health officials. They predict Massachusetts is on pace to have its greatest number of WNV-positive mosquito pools since the virus was first documented in the state in 2000.

There were nine human cases of WNV in the state prior to yesterday’s announcement – six in Middlesex County, one in Hampden County and one in Berkshire County. There were six cases of WNV in Massachusetts residents and one in a horse last year.

WNV can infect people of all ages. But people over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe disease, state officials warn. WNV is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. 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.

 

SIMPLE PRECAUTIONS Avoid outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, peak biting hours for mosquitoes Use insect repellent and wear long-sleeves, long pants and socks Drain standing water around your home and check rain gutters and drains Install or repair window and door screens For more information go to: cityofmethuen.net, northeastmassmosquito.com or mass.gov/dph

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