Massachusetts Sees Rise In Number Of Mosquitoes Infected With West Nile

An exceptionally rainy season in Massachusetts has increased the mosquito population and with it the number of mosquitoes infected with West Nile Virus has also gone up.

This week the Massachusetts Department of Public Health raised the statewide risk level for West Nile virus from low to moderate. The department announced that 162 communities are at moderate risk for the virus. So far, there have been no reported cases in humans throughout the state.

"The hot, humid weather in Massachusetts combined with frequent heavy rainfall has provided perfect conditions for mosquito species carrying West Nile Virus to breed," Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, said in a statement. "I strongly encourage everyone to keep using insect repellant and to be especially aware of mosquito activity at dusk and dawn when the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes is greatest. Move indoors if you are getting bitten."

What are West Nile symptoms? The virus has been found in 30 states

— Newsweek (@Newsweek) July 13, 2018

August and September are the months when most human cases occur, said DPH State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown.

Health officials are asking the public to learn how to prevent infection.

Mosquitoes tend to lay their eggs in water, so one of the best preventative measures is to remove standing water from backyards, said Dr. William Swiggard, an infectious disease doctor at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in western Massachusetts.

"The front line of defense is self-protection against mosquito bites," Swiggard told Newsweek. "I think that the potential for mosquitos to cause serious public health problems has been underestimated for many years."

Mosquitoes that carry the virus are more active at certain times of the day, typically coming out from dusk till dawn. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health suggested limiting outdoor activities during the evening or early morning hours, applying bug spray, and wearing long-sleeved plants and shirts to help to keep the insects away.

There are no vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus and no treatment. Once someone is infected, their immune system is their best line of defense. Most people manage to fight off the virus without showing symptoms, said Swiggard.

Only about 20 percent of people infected show symptoms, including a fever, nausea or vomiting. Some people develop a rash. In the most extreme cases, infections can result in inflammation of the brain. People over the age of 50 are at higher risk for severe illness, but only about 1 out of 150 infected people develop a dangerous, sometimes fatal, illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"People should not be terrified, they should not stop enjoying our beautiful outdoors, but they should understand the risks," said Swiggard.