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More Misquitos Carrying Infectious Disease Found in Berkshires

Massachusetts officials are confirming more positive samples of mosquitos infected with transmittable diseases in the Berkshires. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

This summer, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, has so far confirmed five positive samples of mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus and two positive samples of mosquitoes carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or Triple E in Pittsfield. Other Berkshire communities that have had mosquitoes carrying arboviruses include one positive test for West Nile Virus in North Adams, two positive tests for West Nile in Sheffield, and one in Stockbridge. So far, no human cases of either disease has been documented in Berkshire County, but the news has many Pittsfield residents concerned.

The mosquitoes sampled were taken by the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Program. Chris Horton, superintendent of the BCMCP, said that West Nile Virus and Triple E – both transmitted by mosquito bites - are well-known to affect animals besides humans, including birds and horses which act as carriers. This year, Horton notes, there were a few environmental factors that may have contributed to the presence of the diseases.

This is the first year that Triple E has been found in Western Massachusetts. 1 confirmed human case of the disease was found in Norfolk County, in the Eastern part of the state. Areas of Eastern and Southeastern Massachusetts are listed as critically at risk for mosquito-borne by the Department of Public Health. The Springfield area including Ludlow- where a confirmed case of West Nile Virus was found in a horse this year, are also at moderate to high risk, while in Berkshire County, Sheffield, Stockbridge and Pittsfield are at a low risk.

The BCMCP will be spraying parts of Pittsfield this week with insecticides and larvicides to eliminate mosquito populations in areas where the insect is likely to breed. Chris Horton says that he has heard some of the concerns that city residents have expressed about the use of pesticides, but he reassures those that the chemicals used are safe for humans when used properly.

West Nile activity has also been reported in New York with two human cases, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states across the US.

Symptoms for West Nile Virus include headache, and fever, but Merridith O’Leary of the Pittsfield Health Department says that only a small number of those infected with the virus show symptoms.

The CDC recommends wearing insect repellent on clothing when outside spray, draining and removing standing water on property, installing window screens, and state participation in screening programs.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.