Massachusetts Likely Entering Year Two of Three Year EEE Cycle

HYANNIS – Summer on Cape Cod means the start of mosquito season and the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project has been continuing its work to combat the insects.  

“We’ve been out checking for mosquitoes in the water since April and my crews are working hard to make sure that they are getting around and killing those mosquitoes while they’re still in the water,” said Superintendent and Entomologist for the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project Gabrielle Sakolsky.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water and the amount of water in the region determines how high the mosquito population will be for a given summer.

The warmth of the winter season does not affect the population.

“It’s not the warm or cold of the the winter because the mosquitoes have adapted to that. They’ve evolved to be able to get through a cold winter. It’s how much water we have,” said Sakolsky.  

“Now you can never predict whether we are going to get a lot of rain or a little rain, things were starting to dry up because the trees are sucking up all the water but then it rained again.”

Though it was determined that mosquitoes cannot transmit COVID-19, they still can carry Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Cape Cod and much of Massachusetts was hit by a wave of EEE last year with several human cases reported, including three deaths.

It is believed that the state is currently entering year two of a three year cycle of increased risk of EEE

“Usually you see EEE coming back for those three years so last year was most likely our first year,” said Sakolsky.

“It is assumed that this year will be another year where we may see a raised risk for transmission of Eastern Equine Encephalitis.”  

Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, Truro, and Wellfleet were communities on Cape Cod which saw a moderate EEE risk last summer and fall. The risk was higher for Southeastern Mass. communities north and west of the Cape Cod Canal.

Outbreaks of EEE usually occur in Massachusetts every 10-20 years. Prior to 2019, the most recent outbreak of EEE in the state began in 2010 and included nine cases with four fatalities through 2012.

EEE however remains a very rare disease.

Since the virus was first identified in Massachusetts in the late 1930’s, fewer than 100 cases have occurred.

Over 60 percent of those cases have been from Plymouth and Norfolk Counties.

Sakolsky said that similar defense mechanisms people use to repel ticks can also be used for mosquitoes.

“People are working hard to avoid tick bites and some of the same things you use to avoid those tick bites are the things that will repel mosquitoes,” said Sakolsky.

“Choosing an EPA registered repellent to use and following what the label says is one of the most important things.”

Wearing long pants and a long shirt can also help prevent mosquito and tick bites.

Sakolsky noted that people should check any standing water they have on their property as they tend to be breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes that are most likely to transmit viruses are freshwater mosquitoes, which most actively bite during sunset to a couple hours after sunset.

Mosquitoes that bite during daytime hours are most likely salt marsh mosquitoes that do not transmit diseases.

EEE is initially found in birds and mosquitoes contract and carry the virus after biting them.

Case of EEE are typically seen on Cape Cod later in the summer as birds prepare to migrate to other areas.

County officials have also been trapping and sending out mosquitoes to get tested by state labs.

These tests allow officials to identify what species of mosquito it is and if it is carrying and transmittable disease.

Currently the Control Project has 10 crews working as they focus on 4,000 mosquito sites.

If mosquitoes are prevalent on your property, you can contact the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project and they will come and spray the area.

However, due to the pandemic members of the project are taking precautions and are practicing safe social distancing.

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