Mosquito born illnesses, like Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus are on the rise across the country. The deaths this month of two Vermonters from Eastern Equine Encephalitis have heightened concern about such illnesses here in Vermont.
Erica Berl is an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health. She says even with colder weather, mosquitoes continue to pose a risk. "As the weather gets cold and the first frost hits, that will reduce mosquito activity."
"But," says Berl, "some of the mosquitoes involved in EEE transmission are a little bit resistant to frost, so it’s not going to eliminate the risk completely until probably we’ve had two or three good frosts."
Vermont Health Commissioner Harry Chen says states throughout the northeast are being affected by both EEE and West Nile virus. He says he has weekly calls with neighboring state health commissioners to discuss the situation.
Chen says the deaths of 49-year-old Scott Sgorbati of Sudbury and 87-year-old Richard Hollis Breen of Brandon from EEE says have highlighted the need for that.
"We’ve had a major tragedy in Vermont with the loss of these two lives and certainly my sympathies got out to the families and the communities, because having lived in Mendon for all those years I know that it had a tremendous effect on those communities too," said Chen. He added," I want people to know that it’s a rare disease and the risks are small and there are simple things that people can do to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes."
Like avoiding being outdoors from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are most active. Chen says if you have to be out wear long pants and long sleeved shirts, and use bug repellent.
And while people who live in and around Brandon should take special care to avoid mosquitoes, Erica Berl says it’s good advice for all Vermonters.
"We know that there’s EEE in the Brandon Whiting area. We don’t know for sure about the rest of the state," she said. "But keep in mind that West Nile Virus we know has been circulating in the state for year so we do generally recommend that everyone in the state take precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites."
Berl says the aerial spraying the state did earlier this month in parts of Brandon and Whiting was successful and that the number of Culesita Melanura they trapped, the mosquitoes that carry EEE, had decreased by more than 50%. But she points out they can never eradicate all of them.