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MA Man Dies of West Nile Virus, Threat Level Raised

A Worcester, MA, resident in his 60s with severe underlying medical conditions was diagnosed with WNV in mid-August and has since died of the illness.

While there have not yet been any reports of serious illness in East Bay Rhode Island, the first death of a Massachusetts resident due to West Nile Virus (WNV) since 2005 and additional human cases have led state officials to raise the threat level in nearby Massachusetts to at least 'moderate."

A Worcester resident in his 60s with severe underlying medical conditions was diagnosed with WNV in mid-August and has since died of the illness, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) announced on Friday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of this gentleman during this difficult time," Worcester Division of Public Health Acting Commissioner Dr. Michael Hirsh said in a DPH press release. "While we have been fortunate that we have seen a very low number of human West Nile cases, on rare occasion WNV can be very serious. Today’s announcement should not stir a sense of panic in our community, yet stands as a reminder to residents to be cognitive of the preventative measures recommended to avoid infection." 

Testing conducted on Aug. 21 found infected mosquitoes in Reading. On Aug. 23, the Reading Health Department announced that the MA Dept. of Public Health reported that . Mosquitoes with the , MA.

Massachusetts' health officials also announced three additional human cases of WNV: A Middlesex County resident in her 60s who is recovering, and two Greater Boston residents, a woman in her 70s and another woman in her 50s, both of whom are recovering.

"Taken together, all of these findings point to the fact that the threat of mosquito-borne illness is very real in Massachusetts no matter where you live," said DPH State Epidemiologist Dr. Al DeMaria in the press release. "Keep using insect repellant and avoid outdoor activities at dusk and after nightfall until the first hard frost, when we can be sure that the threat of mosquitoes has passed."

Public health officials have stated that chances of acquiring mosquito borne diseases such as WNV or EEE are remote, but that residents should be aware that these mosquito-borne viruses could cause fever, meningitis or encephalitis. Early symptoms of these diseases include fever, headache, stiff neck and muscle weakness.

Below are precautions to take against contracting West Nile Virus, taken from a DPH press release.

Avoid Mosquito Bites

  • Apply Insect Repellent when Outdoors. Use a repellent with DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picaridin (KBR 3023), oil of lemon eucalyptus [p-methane 3, 8-diol (PMD)] or IR3535 according to the instructions on the product label. DEET products should not be used on infants under two months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30% or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age.
  • Be Aware of Peak Mosquito Hours. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning.
  • Clothing Can Help Reduce Mosquito Bites. Wearing long-sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.

Mosquito-Proof Your Home

  • Drain Standing Water. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty any unused flowerpots and wading pools, and change water in birdbaths frequently.
  • Install or Repair Screens. Keep mosquitoes outside by having tightly-fitting screens on all of your windows and doors.

Protect Your Animals

Animal owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools — especially after heavy rains. Water troughs provide excellent mosquito breeding habitats and should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months to reduce mosquitoes near paddock areas. Horse owners should keep horses in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes. If an animal is diagnosed with WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to DAR, Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795 and to the Department of Public Health (DPH) by calling 617-983-6800.

More information, including all WNV and EEE positive results from 2012, can be found on the Arbovirus Surveillance Information web page at www.mass.gov/dph/wnv or by calling the DPH Epidemiology Program at 617-983-6800.

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