EEE putting Haunted Hayrides in doubt

  • Athol Board of Health Agent Deborah Vondal spoke to the Athol Lions Club recently about reports of the EEE virus located in Massachusetts and preventative measures that can be taken. Seated are King Lion David Bishop and club secretary Kimberly Emond. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2019 9:50:23 PM
Modified: 9/22/2019 11:15:10 AM

ATHOL — In 2012, the Athol Lions Club had to cancel its Haunted Hayrides at Silver Lake Park because of an outbreak of the EEE (Eastern Equine Encephalitis) virus in Massachusetts.

The recently reported EEE diagnoses in the state is necessitating the club to proceed with uncertainty as it plans for the 21st Annual Haunted Hayrides on Oct. 18 and 19.

Athol Board of Health Agent Deborah Vondal was invited to the Lions Club meeting Tuesday to address concerns, share information and provide an update about the rare but potentially deadly virus.

She said Athol has a demonstrated risk for EEE because in 2004 two emus died from it and a child was diagnosed with it in 2012, causing outdoor events to be canceled, including the hayrides and school sports.

Vondal said that contracting EEE from a mosquito is rare but it can have serious neurological effects. “The state wants us to take preventative measures,” that include the “5 D’s” of mosquito control:

■DUSK/DAWN: Avoid outdoor activities at this time when mosquitoes are most active.

■DEET: Use a repellent with this ingredient if you’re going to be outside, or any EPA-approved pesticide. DEET can be put on the skin, while other repellents should be put only on clothing. Vondal said repellents are also good for ticks.

■DRESS: When outside during peak mosquito hours, wear long sleeves and long pants and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

■DRAIN: Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, as Vondal has witnessed when enforcing trash complaints.

The peak time for mosquitoes is August to September when the EEE virus has built up in the bird population. Vondal said a person can only get the EEE virus from a bird that was affected by a mosquito. The symptoms of EEE, which can occur three to 10 days after being bitten by a mosquito, include a fever between 103 and 106 degrees, a stiff neck, headache, and lack of energy. Vondal said there is no treatment for it.

The Board of Health office receives weekly messages from the state. Vondal said “we are at the moderate level.”

Several years ago she pushed for mosquito sampling in this region because of the demonstrated risk. There are two secret sampling sites in Athol. If a sample is found with EEE, Vondal, who is on call 24/7, said she would get a direct phone call and would get a HAN (Health Alert Network) alert that comes from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “I can give guidelines of what to do.” If it’s critical, she would cancel outdoor school activities. The closest case this year in Worcester County has been in Brookfield, she said.

Though nights are getting cooler and the foggy and cold conditions make it difficult for mosquitoes to fly, “We have to keep aware until we get a hard frost and then there’s no more mosquitoes,” she said. However, “We still have to worry about ticks year -round.”

Vondal said each mosquito has a particular breeding place such as the red maple swamps located in this community. Larvacides, an insecticide that is specifically targeted against the larval life stage of an insect, can be done at the swamps but she said it’s hard to get to them.

Pesticide spraying “reduces the population but it doesn’t reduce the risk.” She doesn’t believe in spraying if it’s not needed.

Eighty percent of people with another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus, don’t have symptoms, she said, only the occasional person who gets a bad illness. Of a recent report of the virus in Cambridge, Vondal said that while it can be prevalent to an area, it’s not exclusive to it. She said most of the state is at low risk for West Nile viruses.

As of this writing, a 10th person, a man in his 70s from Bristol County, was diagnosed with EEE in Massachusetts. The hospital has reported to the State Department of Public Health that the patient died as a result of his illness. The DPH also confirmed a second human case of West Nile Virus, a man in his 50s from Plymouth County.

Vondal understands how fear can override a person’s way of life. “We’re always balancing risks with what can happen,” she said. “Enjoy life, go out, and just protect yourself.”

The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services has online maps at that show daily updates of EEE and West Nile virus activity.

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