Gov. Charlie Baker and other state officials asked Massachusetts residents on Tuesday to prepare for another set of personal protections measures — mosquito protections to prevent the spread of the eastern equine encephalitis virus.
Massachusetts faced an outbreak of EEE cases last year, with 12 human cases and 6 deaths, and since the mosquito-borne disease tends to run in two- to three-year cycles, the state expects to see another year of relatively high EEE risk. State public health officials on Monday said the virus has been detected in in a second mosquito sample, this one collected July 5 in the Franklin County community of Wendell.
The first EEE case was detected July 2 in Orange, also in Franklin County.
State officials now consider the EEE risk to be moderate in the communities of Athol, Wendell, New Salem and Orange. Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said this is considered to be early in the year to be detecting EEE, though there are still no known human or animal cases in Massachusetts.
Baker has proposed new legislation to allow better statewide coordination of mosquito control efforts, which is now generally run by local districts around the state. But the governor said Tuesday that as with the fight against COVID-19, individuals can take protective measures to significantly lower their exposure to EEE.
“We will do the things that we can do as government entities working together with our colleagues in the private sector to limit the exposure and the outbreak associated with EEE," Baker said. "But there are a lot of things people can do as individuals and if we are all smart about this we can really limit the impact.”
The primary personal protective steps Baker described are wearing a “pretty significant bug spray” when you are outdoors, wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants, and avoiding evening outdoor activities when mosquitos are most active. Baker said he still wants people to go outside, particularly since the COVID pandemic has limited all kinds of activities that would normally get people out of their homes.
“We do think it’s important for people to be outside. We’ve been saying people should be outside since March,” Baker said. "The sun is a very important part of ... happiness and positivity for people.”
The state has created a new website for people to track the risks of mosquito and tick borne illnesses, and is regularly updating the EEE risk level in communities across the state.
State House News Service reporter Michael P. Norton contributed to this report.