EDITORIALS

How Maine towns can prepare for West Nile, eastern equine encephalitis

In this August 2013 file photo, Brendan Emanuel from the University of New England looks in on the nest built inside of a birdhouse placed on the perimeter of a school soccer field. Emanuel was part of a team seeking to inventory and control mosquito populations at the Biddeford campus.
In this August 2013 file photo, Brendan Emanuel from the University of New England looks in on the nest built inside of a birdhouse placed on the perimeter of a school soccer field. Emanuel was part of a team seeking to inventory and control mosquito populations at the Biddeford campus.
Posted July 30, 2014, at 10:25 a.m.

With mosquitoes out and about during the summer, it’s important for towns to be ready for what sometimes comes with them: infectious diseases.

Here are two viruses to know about and information about how towns can ready themselves. They may never have an outbreak, but it never hurts to be prepared if they do.

West Nile

The virus transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito can infect both humans and animals such as birds and horses. Most infections don’t cause symptoms, but some can cause fever, headache, body aches, skin rashes and swollen lymph glands. In a small number of cases, the virus also can cause neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and death. There is no specific treatment, and mild cases tend to go away on their own.

Maine confirmed its first human case of West Nile in Cumberland County in 2012.

Eastern equine encephalitis

This virus is considered one of the most serious mosquito-borne illnesses because of its high mortality rate. Like West Nile, it has no treatment. Most people infected have no symptoms. In those who do, their symptoms may range from headache, high fever, chills and vomiting, to inflammation of the brain, coma and death.

Eastern equine encephalitis has caused the death of animals in seven counties and was present in blood samples taken from deer and moose in all Maine counties. No one in Maine has died from the virus, but in 2008, a Massachusetts man acquired eastern equine encephalitis, potentially while vacationing in Cumberland County, and he later died.

Action steps

There are steps Maine officials can take to prepare for the event of an outbreak, as David Struble, state entomologist at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, wrote recently for the Maine Townsman, the magazine of the Maine Municipal Association. So far, only Kittery and York have taken specific steps to monitor for the two major diseases.

1. Read up on the Maine Center for Disease Control’s recommendations on prevention, surveillance, reporting and responses at http://bit.ly/mosquitoplan.

2. Spread the word about reducing residents’ risk, such as by draining standing water and repairing ripped window screens.

3. Create a response plan that addresses actions such as how to notify residents of an outbreak, how best to reschedule events planned for around dusk, and whether and how to reduce adult populations of mosquitoes during high-risk times of the year.

4. For more planning ideas, towns can consider the following reports on efforts elsewhere: http://bit.ly/bugmanage, http://bit.ly/managebugny, http://bit.ly/kitterybug, http://bit.ly/confrontbug and http://bit.ly/cobug.

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