BOSTON (AP) - State health officials plan to begin aerial spraying for mosquitoes in nearly a dozen southeastern Massachusetts communities after a number of mosquito samples recently collected in the region tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis, a potentially deadly disease for humans.
The state Department of Public Health says aerial spraying will begin "as soon as possible" in the following communities: Bridgewater, Carver, Easton, Halifax, Lakeville, Middleborough, Norton, Plympton, Raynham, Taunton, and West Bridgewater. Department officials would not give an exact timetable, saying they will need to monitor the weather and other factors before spraying pesticides.
Aerial spraying with planes will take place on a warm night with no wind or rain: prime conditions for mosquitoes to be out.
Southeastern Massachusetts residents are urged to taking as many precautions as possible against mosquito bites, such as applying insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved clothing when outdoors, especially on warm nights. Residents should also drain standing water to cut down on potential mosquito breeding areas and install or repair window screens.
State Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach said the recent confirmed samples of EEE in mammal-biting mosquitoes have come earlier this year than in the past, which he finds "particularly concerning."
He said cases of these mosquitoes do not usually arise until August, meaning that this year southeastern Massachusetts residents could have an even longer exposure period that normal. Officials attribute this to the mild winter and recent high temperatures, which speed up breeding and the growth of the virus in mosquitoes.
The commissioner said it's too early to predict whether or not this summer will bring one of the highest-risks for EEE seen in the state.
He said ground-level insecticide spraying is currently taking place in southeastern Massachusetts.
Last month, the department issued new guidelines that would allow health officials to consider spraying insecticides in a region if just one mammal-biting mosquito is found to be infected with EEE. Previously, they had officials determine there was a critical risk, based on at least two human or mammal cases of the virus.
There have been no human cases of EEE or West Nile virus in Massachusetts so far this year. There were two cases of EEE last summer, and one was fatal.