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Regional EEE mosquito threat prompts reduction of outside events in Amherst

AMHERST — With a high threat for both Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus in Amherst, town officials and the University of Massachusetts have decided to restrict outdoor activities.

Both diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, which are most active at dusk and during the night.

The restriction applies in Amherst to town-owned parks, conservation areas, including Puffer’s Pond, and recreation areas from dusk to dawn.

The restriction does not affect activities during daylight hours and the ban will be lifted after the first frost that kills adult mosquitoes, according to a statement issued by town officials Tuesday.

The decision comes after two horses stabled in Belchertown died after being infected with EEE and mosquitoes tested positive for the virus. After the second horse died, the state Department of Public Health last week raised the threat level in Amherst to high.

UMass restricted campus-sponsored nighttime outdoor events. Campus departments and organizations are being encouraged to reschedule such events or move them indoors.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy approved the action, which was recommended by campus health and safety officials.

The emergence of EEE in the Amherst area comes a month earlier than last year.

Campus employees, visitors and students are being advised of the EEE risk and steps they can take to protect their health. Information is also being sent to parents of students prior to the opening of the school year. Educational efforts with students and other members of the campus community will continue until health officials determine the EEE risk has subsided.

All members of the campus community are being urged to limit evening outdoor activities and to take precautions such as using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and long pants, and avoiding areas where mosquitoes are prevalent. On campus, the grounds staff is applying larvicide to areas of standing water to prevent mosquito breeding.

Town Manager John Musante said this will mean curtailing sports games and practices near grassy and swampy areas. Though there have been no cases of EEE in humans yet, last year seven people in the state were infected by the mosquito-transmitted illness.

EEE is a rare illness caused by a virus that humans can contract through an infected mosquito’s bite. It can cause flu-like symptoms such as high fever and headache and neck stiffness, but also convulsions, loss of vision and coma. People under 15 and over 50 are more likely to have serious complications as a result of the illness, the state said.

West Nile virus, also mosquito-borne, causes no symptoms in most infected people. Those infected can show symptoms from a fever to more dangerous conditions such as meningitis and encephalitis. Again, infection is more dangerous for those over 50.

People are also reminded about the risk if they are enjoying conservation areas, such as Puffer’s Pond and Amethyst Brook, late in the day. When outdoors, residents are advised to wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and insect repellent. They should avoid areas where mosquitoes are prevalent, including swamps, fields and low-lying areas.

Other communities at moderate levels of risk are Hadley and South Hadley, while the risk is low in Hatfield, Northampton and Whately.

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