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TMCNet:  City, Essex, Manchester lift EEE activity bans

[October 17, 2012]

City, Essex, Manchester lift EEE activity bans

Oct 17, 2012 (Gloucester Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Football players will soon resume playing under the Friday night lights and spectators at organized outdoor events will again find themselves buying tickets as the sun sets, after Gloucester, Manchester, Essex and Rockport all lifted their temporary bans on evening outdoor activities Tuesday morning.

The towns had banned organized outdoor activities during peak mosquito activity hours -- between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. -- after a particularly bad mosquito-borne illness season pegged Gloucester and Manchester as being at "high" risk of exposure and Essex at "critical" to West Nile Virus and Eastern equine encephalitis. But a hard frost in the late hours of Friday night and early hours of Saturday morning significantly reduced the threat of mosquito borne illness, according to Manchester's Board of Health.

The hard frost in the area was also confirmed by NOAA's National Weather Service, which declared a hard frost statewide except in Cape Cod and Suffolk County, which includes Boston. The state has yet to update threat level maps, though a spokeswoman for the state health board said Tuesday that risk is highly diminished in the areas that endured the hard frost.

Though mosquitoes are still buzzing around, especially because the weather has warmed again since Saturday, the frost should have killed almost all mosquitoes that posed a threat, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health.

"While individual mosquitoes may have survived in isolated sheltered areas, the risk of mosquito-borne illness should be virtually eliminated at this time in the areas where the hard frost occurred," the state health department said in a prepared statement.

Gloucester's manager of environmental health services, Max Schenk, said those mosquitoes still seen floundering around in the night air, have become much less active, therefore far less likely to spread disease. And, Schenk said, the mosquitoes zipping around during the day are a different species that do not carry mosquito-borne illnesses.

"The mosquitoes that we are concerned about generally become inactive with the cooler temperatures," Schenk said. "If you see mosquitoes during the day, it's less likely that they're harmful." Still, Schenk said, even with the reduced threat, the health boards are recommending people continue to take basic precautions, including wearing long sleeves and pants when outdoors after dark and spraying on insect repellent that includes the active ingredient DEET.

"There's a belt and suspenders kind of approach to it," Schenk said, suggesting that even with temperatures lowering risk, residents should continue to protect themselves.

Officials at Rockport's Board of Health were not immediately available for comment Tuesday. And a Rockport High School spokeswoman said the ban on outdoor activities had not yet been lifted in that town as of Tuesday. But, the Rockport Board of Health's statement that first announced the ban indicated that the board would lift the ban after a hard freeze, and Rockport High Athletic Director Mary Ryan confirmed Tuesday night officials had dropped the ban, allowing the school to resume its normal outdoor sports schedule beginning as early as Thursday.

Rockport's Board of Health had enacted a ban on organized, outdoor night activities after reaching the "moderate" threat level. Rockport's state-determined risk level never grew past "moderate," the state minimum. The state recommends towns begin considering that kind of ban at the next level up, "high" risk level.

In a record year for mosquito-borne illness, Eastern equine encephalitis has infected seven people in the state, and 24 more people contracted West Nile Virus, according to state data. Three state residents died from EEE.

Though officials say it is unlikely that we will see more mosquito-borne illness infections, at least two Cape Ann communities are already planning preparations for next year's mosquito season.

Essex will vote at its fall town meeting on whether or not to join the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control District, the state agency that allows towns and cities to perform ground spraying of a mosquito adulticide formula. The measure is on the warrant for the meeting, set for Nov. 19.

Manchester was the only Cape Ann town with membership in the district, and the only town able to test mosquito pools and spray this year. Essex, Gloucester, Rockport and Lawrence, are the only towns and cities in the Northeast district's region without membership in the district.

Gloucester will also consider joining the district, according to Schenk, but will also discuss other mosquito-borne illness prevention techniques.

"By then we're hoping to have a community conversation about how best to deal with our concerns," Schenk said. "They're going to look at the full menu of options." Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.

___ (c)2012 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.) Visit the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.) at www.gloucestertimes.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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