Health officials: No need for alarm at elevated risk for West Nile virus

GREENFIELD — Local health officials don’t want residents to be alarmed, even though 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 local trappings in Greenfield and Deerfield, along with an increase in the number of mosquitoes found in the 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 public health department raised the risk level there 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. Mosquitoes in Northampton also tested positive for West Nile last week.

The elevated risk means “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, noted that this is the first time that the area is tracking mosquitoes, in an attempt to better monitor and predict potential problems.

“Our message to the community is not to do anything more than to do anything we’ve already asked them to,” White said.

The recommendations include avoiding outdoor activity at dawn and dusk, the peak hours when these types of mosquitoes bite. If people have to be outside during these hours, they are advised to make sure to put on bug repellent and wear long sleeved shirts and pants.

Health officials also recommend clearing any standing water people may have in their yards, whether that be a sitting puddle, a kiddie pool, or water sitting in plant saucers after a rainstorm. This will help reduce places where mosquitoes carrying West Nile can lay their eggs.

Ness said she and her team working on the local mosquito-trapping effort in Greenfield and Deerfield were anticipating these elevated results.

Typically 70 to 80 percent of people infected with 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 mosquito.

As Ness and others in the region work to build data that had been mostly absent from the Pioneer Valley on mosquitoes, she hopes that 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.

Author: Going Green

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