In 14 towns clustered mainly in southeast Connecticut, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) has been identified in mosquitoes capable of biting and transmitting disease to humans. Two horses have also been infected with the disease and euthanized.
“It looks like right now we have quite a bit of activity primarily in the eastern part of the state. The areas of greatest concern are Voluntown, North Stonington and Stonington,” said Theodore Andreadis, director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “The activity we are seeing in the entire northeast is unprecedented. I’ve never seen this much activity from New Jersey up through Massachusetts.”
EEE has been identified in Chester, Haddam, Hampton, Killingworth, Madison, Plainfield, Shelton, Ledyard, Groton, Colchester and Columbia, as well as Voluntown, North Stonington and Stonington.
Although Massachusetts and Rhode Island have both begun aerial spraying of insecticide, the experiment station and the Connecticut Department of Public Health are for the time being focusing their efforts on public awareness.
“We don’t know where we would really spray and things are beginning to wind down with just another two weeks in which mosquitoes will likely be active and biting,” Andreadis said. “We are recommending strongly that people avoid mosquito bites by staying indoors at dawn and dusk and if bitten removing themselves from the area. Don’t think about camping out there right now.”
Some of the communities that are affected have begun to limit outdoor after-school activities for children. The Town of Stonington is spraying behind the town’s high school sports complex.
“A lot of communities are doing some pesticide spraying in parks and ball fields and to me that does make a lot of sense,” Andreadis said.
Four of the fourteen affected towns are part of Ledge Light Health District, which has also focused on social-media messaging and public postings.
“In Groton we know there are a lot of hikers and mountain bikers who like to congregate after work — the exact time you aren’t supposed to,” said Stephen Mansfield, director of Ledge Light. “This morning I went to Bluff Point and Haley Farm State Park to put up signs to warn people and encourage use of pesticides with DEET. We hope people listen.”
It is not clear why EEE is more prevalent in the mosquito population this year or how long it will take until the first frost eliminates the public health threat.
“One species of mosquito that develops in our hardwood swamps is especially prone to carrying EEE and there is a high population of that this year,” Andreadis said. “We had a wet spring and a mild winter and we think that the virus just sort of got seeded into the region from migratory birds.”
Although mosquitoes tend to die off in mid to late September, during the last outbreak of EEE in 2013, the only person killed by the disease was bitten in October. So far, there have been two human deaths reported – one in Massachusetts and one in Rhode Island.
“When you have this much activity the big message is just avoid being bit,” Andreadis said.