Relative to other parts of the U.S. and the world, northeast United States is a fairly safe place to live; naturally occurring disasters, wide-spread disease, and ferocious wild animals are not topics one would commonly see on New England news stations. However, over the last few weeks, several Massachusetts counties have reported mosquitos which tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, also known as EEE. There have also been a handful of human EEE infections including one at the end of August that was fatal.
In response to this public announcement, fear has spread through Massachusetts. Citizens who understandably see this mosquito-spread illness as being something similar to the mosquito-spread Ebola virus that covers much of western Africa (many of its symptoms—high fever, severe headache, fatigue—are similar). Luckily, Massachusetts’ state government has been very informative (on sites like Mass.gov) on just how dangerous this outbreak is and what the public can do prevent infection. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination or even a treatment for the EEE virus. These facts along with the statistic that approximately 1 in 4 die from infection are why it is so important to avoid coming in contact with potentially infected mosquitos.
In addition to spreading information and establishing behavioral protocols to prevent citizens from contracting the virus, many Massachusetts’ towns have ordered the eradication of the virus via chemical spraying. According to this report, three Massachusetts counties have executed chemical spraying in various regions earlier this week. These efforts might be effective but should not be taken lightly by the public. Although insecticides and other chemical treatments have come a long way in terms of safety, one need only look back to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to know the possible biological repercussions in nature as a result of human influence.
Looking forward in light of events as a Massachusetts citizen, it is important to proceed with caution, being sure to avoid contact with potentially-infected mosquitos, but not to be overcome with fear; although the death tally among those infected with the virus is extremely high it should be noted that contracting the virus is a very rare occurrence. Also, as important as maintaining the safety of the public is, the quick, if not, first response of chemically treating EEE-ridden areas should be very carefully considered given environmental repercussions.
David Frykenberg (1)