Mosquitoes are easily one of the most dangerous insect pests in the country, spreading a number of diseases, including West Nile, malaria, St. Luis Encephalitis, and the zika virus just to name a few, to humans through their bite. They also spread a disease known as Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), which has been spreading like wildfire throughout Massachusetts. This year’s outbreak of EEE is the worst Massachusetts residents have seen in over 50 years. While the danger will soon end this year as the weather gets colder, and freezing temperatures make survival impossible for mosquitos, that doesn’t mean we are out of danger just yet. Experts say that it will return in full force this next year when temperatures rise again in the spring and summer. They also know that EEE outbreaks are cyclical, and tend to last between two to three years, meaning it’s return come next spring is certain.
Since we know EEE outbreaks are cyclical, this also gives us the chance to prepare for next year’s outbreak ahead of time, and hopefully, mitigate it’s spread and the size of the outbreak. To figure out how to stay ahead of next year’s outbreak, experts first needed to understand why this year’s outbreak was so massive. According to Catherine Brown, head epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Health, the increase in wet, rainy weather was one contributing factor. Climate change could be another factor, as well as the possibility that Massachusetts is dealing with a new strain of EEE that moved north into the state from Florida.
Local mosquito control districts are already making efforts to stay one step ahead of next year’s outbreak. Crews are cleaning up any areas that contain water pools, which is what female mosquitoes use as their nesting ground where they can lay massive amounts of eggs in even the tiniest pools. In order to deal with more marshy areas, they are dropping larvicide directly on the sites from helicopters, which will help attack the larvae these female mosquitoes are aiming to hatch that help spread the disease faster. They are also monitoring the insects themselves to help them better understand this year’s outbreak, as well as provide them with knowledge of where their habitats currently are so they can target those areas ahead of next year’s outbreak and better control it’s spread. You can also take steps to reduce the risk of getting infected next year around your home by cleaning out your gutters that get blocked by falling leaves. When gutters get blocked, pools of water can form, providing female mosquitoes with convenient breeding spots.
Did you or someone you know get infected with EEE this past year?