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First West Nile Death in Mass. Since 2005, Threat Level Raised Statewide

A Worcester resident in his 60s with severe underlying medical conditions was diagnosed with WNV in mid-August and has since died of the illness.

The first death of a Massachusetts resident due to West Nile Virus (WNV) since 2005 and additional human cases have led state officials to raise the threat level statewide to at least 'moderate."

In Brookline, the threat level was raised to . A week later, . 

A Worcester resident in his 60s with severe underlying medical conditions was diagnosed with WNV in mid-August and has since died of the illness, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) announced on Friday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of this gentleman during this difficult time," Worcester Division of Public Health Acting Commissioner Dr. Michael Hirsh said in a DPH press release. "While we have been fortunate that we have seen a very low number of human West Nile cases, on rare occasion WNV can be very serious. Today’s announcement should not stir a sense of panic in our community, yet stands as a reminder to residents to be cognitive of the preventative measures recommended to avoid infection." 

Testing conducted in July found . 

State health officials also announced three additional human cases of WNV: A Middlesex County resident in her 60s who is recovering, and two Greater Boston residents, a woman in her 70s and another woman in her 50s, both of whom are recovering.

"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," said DPH State Epidemiologist Dr. Al DeMaria in the press release. "Keep using insect repellant 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."

Public health officials have stated that chances of acquiring mosquito borne diseases such as WNV or EEE are remote, but that residents should be aware that these mosquito-borne viruses could cause fever, meningitis or encephalitis. Early symptoms of these diseases include fever, headache, stiff neck and muscle weakness.

Below is a recent press release from the Brookline Health Department:

State raises West Nile virus alert level to HIGH in several communities including Brookline.

On August 23, 2012, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health raised the West Nile virusalert level to HIGH from moderate in several communities including Brookline, due to the finding of a second human case of the virus in a neighboring community. Mosquito-borne viruses are viruses that are carried and spread by mosquitoes. In this part of the country, public health surveillance is done for twomosquito-borne viruses that can cause encephalitis (swelling of the brain) - West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). The period of highest risk of getting either disease can be from late July through thefall.

Mosquitoes get WNV and EEE by biting infected birds. People and animals can get these diseases by being bittenby an infected mosquito. There is no evidence that a person can get these viruses from handling live or dead infected birds or animals. However, gloves should be worn when handling any dead animals and double plastic bags used to discard them in the trash. 

Most people bitten by mosquitoes carrying WNV will experience no symptoms or very mild symptoms and willrecover on their own. Persons over 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe WNV disease. People whoare bitten by mosquitoes carrying EEE tend to experience more severe symptoms. Severe symptoms of both diseases include high fever, muscle weakness, headache, disorientation, neck stiffness, paralysis, coma, tremors,convulsions and sometimes death. There is currently no vaccine or medical cure for these illnesses. In severe casesintensive medical therapy such as intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrition, and ventilator support can be administeredin hospitals.

What is Brookline doing to protect me?

The Brookline Department of Public Health is involved in active surveillance for mosquito-borne viruses. Dead bird reports are no longer collected by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) and dead birds are no longer tested for WNV as MDPH has determined that tracking and testing of dead birds is no longer a useful way to monitor WNV activity. Mosquito collecting and testing, which provide a more reliable indication of current WNV activity, began in June.  

For further information, call the MDPH Information line at 1-866-627-7968.

Brookline will be doing the following to address mosquito-borne viruses this summer and fall:

  • Larvicide is being applied to targeted catch basins and some wetland areas to prevent hatching of new mosquitoes.
  • Mosquito traps have been established and mosquito pools are being tested for the virus.
  • An information line is established at (617) 730-2295 and at www.brooklinema.gov.
  • Mosquito-borne virus information appears on the Town web site with a link to the State Lab including updated mosquito count and test results.
  • There is inspection and enforcement of standing water areas in parks, fields, tires, etc.
  • Spraying to kill adult mosquitoes may be done, only if absolutely necessary, and if recommended by the State.  Every effort will be made to notify residents of the spraying beforehand.

What can I do to protect myself?

Avoid Bites! Follow these steps:

  • Avoid outdoor activity between dusk and dawn. If you must be outdoors when mosquitoes are active, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and socks. Cover baby carriages or playpens that are outdoors with mosquito netting.
  • When outside, use a mosquito repellent.  Repellents that contain DEET are the most effective, although DEET should not be used on infants. This year, the CDC also recommends products which contain either the chemical Picaridin, found in Cutter Advanced; or products containing the oil of lemon eucalyptus.  Alternatives to DEET that can also be effective for a limited duration (1hour) on the market are: citronella; Avon Skin-So-Soft Plus IR3535; Buzz Away, neem oil, and soybean oil.
  • Avoid areas that tend to have a lot of mosquitoes, such as wetlands or swampy areas.
  • Fix holes in all window and door screens.
  • Remove standing or stagnant water in your yard where mosquitoes are likely to breed. Check your flower pots, wheelbarrows, garbage cans, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, clogged gutters on your house, old tires, etc.
  • Repair leaking pipes and outdoor faucets.
  • Keep your grass cut short and bushes near your house trimmed so mosquitoes can’t hide.
  • Call the health department if you see standing water problems that are not on your property.

For further information or to report stagnant water (more than 10 days) or other complaints, please call the Brookline Department of Public Health at 617-730-2300.

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