GREENFIELD — Local health officials don’t want residents to be alarmed at the news seven Franklin County towns are now at a moderate risk for West Nile virus.
After a second straight week of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus in Greenfield and Deerfield — along with an increase in the amount of mosquitoes in total found in traps — the state Department of Public Health was prompted to raise the risk level from low to moderate.
It is unlikely that the risk would be bumped up to high, unless multiple people are hospitalized with the virus, local officials said.
Last week, Deerfield’s Department of Public Health announced a higher risk level after mosquitoes in the area tested positive for the virus two weeks in a row.
Greenfield, Shelburne, Conway, Whately, Sunderland, Leverett, Montague and Gill now join Deerfield with a moderate risk level.
“What it means now to be at the moderate risk level means that there are more opportunities for humans to contract the West Nile virus through mosquito bites,” said Deerfield Board of Health Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness. “All we’re asking people to do is to use extra caution that we urged them to do last week.”
Lisa White, who is the public health nurse for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, pointed out that this is the first time the area is tracking mosquitoes, in an attempt to better monitor and predict potential problems in the area.
“Our message to the community is not to do anything more than to do anything we’ve already asked them to,” White said.
The recommendation when it comes to West Nile virus is to avoid peak hours when these types of mosquitoes bite — dawn and dusk. And if outside during these hours, people are advised to make sure to put on DEET bug spray and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
Health officials also advise staying clear of any standing water, whether that be a puddle, a kiddy pool or sitting water in plant pots after a rain storm. Diligence in clearing standing water, health officials say, will help reduce places where mosquitoes carrying West Nile lay their eggs.
Ness said she and her team working on the mosquito trapping effort in Greenfield and Deerfield were anticipating these elevated results.
“When you have the sustained activity up and down the valley, it just means it’s circulating,” Ness said. “People need to pay attention.”
Typically 70 to 80 percent of people who get West Nile virus never know they have it, Ness said. About 20 percent who contract the virus end up with mild flu symptoms, while a small percentage will end up having to be hospitalized.
“West Nile is not something that you have to tremendously worry about,” Ness said. “Triple E, on the other hand, is so serious and that’s something that we’re trying to be in a position to track.”
Triple E, or eastern equine encephalitis, is another type of virus contracted from a particular type of mosquitoes. While wet conditions this year may have led to a greater chance of West Nile, in other years, conditions may have been more poised for Triple E.
As Ness and others in the region work to build data on mosquitoes that had been mostly absent from the Pioneer Valley, she hopes this will help the local health departments become more adept at predicting potential outbreaks.
But for now, Ness said people shouldn’t be particularly concerned about contracting West Nile.
“You just have to be more mindful and pay attention and you should be OK,” she said.