The detection of more mosquitoes infected with the Eastern equine encephalitis virus is prompting schools and municipalities in southern Maine to reschedule evening events and do additional pesticide spraying to protect residents from exposure.

Schools across the region are carefully watching the results of state monitoring of EEE, said Michael Burnham, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association. The schools are considering whether to reschedule night games and other outdoor activities, he said, “and we support those schools’ measures.”

The guiding principle is minimizing risk by limiting exposure, said Burnham. “Safety (should come) first,” he said. “The welfare of kids and fans, too.”

In York, where some of this year’s 21 positive EEE test results have originated, a second round of pesticide spraying was done Monday night, said Zak Harding, facilities director for the York School Department. The perimeters of all athletic fields, schools and town buildings were covered, he said.

Such spraying was done earlier in the season, and the school district has already changed the hours of athletic events to avoid evening home games, said Ted Welch, York High School’s athletic director. Kennebunk and Wells high schools also reportedly moved some game times earlier.

The hours of athletic events at York High will be re-examined on Oct. 1, Welch said. The restriction on night play could be extended, but the hope is that colder weather will soon kill off mosquitoes.

The National Weather Service projects Oct. 1-15 as the likely period in which frost will first occur in many parts of Maine.

Officials in Kittery — where the latest discovery of EEE was made Friday — said they are assessing the situation weekly to determine the level of risk and what measures are needed and appropriate.

“At this time we have made a decision not to spray,” said Mike Roberge, assistant principal and athletic administrator for Traip Academy, the town’s high school. “We are monitoring closely weekly updates and recommendations being sent by the (Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Maine Department of Education … and will continue to monitor this situation closely,” Roberge said.

The issue of evening games is moot at Traip Academy because the school does not have lights and all games are played in the afternoon, Roberge said.

Farther north in Saco, games and practices that might run after dusk are being moved to earlier times, said Joe Hirsch, director of the parks and recreation department, even though the virus has not been detected in the city.

The events are being rescheduled to ensure that everyone leaves the fields before sunset, he said.

Later this fall, events will be scheduled even earlier to compensate for the shorter hours of daylight, he said.

“It is inconvenient,” he said. “But (we’re) ending things a little earlier to be on the safe side.”

No spraying of pesticides has been done or planned, said Hirsch. That would require approval by the City Council, he said, and has not yet been seen as warranted.

This is Maine’s worst year for EEE in the past five years. Since mid-August, the virus has been detected in a growing number of monitoring sites, called mosquito pools, over a growing area of southern Maine, from coastal York and Kittery as far west as Oxford.

Infected mosquitoes were found last week in 13 more mosquito pools, the CDC reported, raising the total number for this summer to 21 pools.

West Nile virus was found late last week in a mosquito pool in Alfred, health officials have reported.

EEE and West Nile virus are spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Of the two infections, EEE is far more serious, involving potential inflammation of the brain and, occasionally, coma and death.

Many people who are bitten by mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus may experience mild flu-like symptoms and never know they have been affected.

EEE has never yet been diagnosed and reported in a Maine resident. However, in 2008, a Massachusetts resident who may have been infected while vacationing in Cumberland County died from the virus, the Maine CDC has reported.

EEE occurs in the eastern half of the U.S. and causes serious disease in five to 10 humans each year, along with horses, some birds and, infrequently, other mammals.

The responses of municipalities and schools are directed at limiting exposure to mosquitoes, which are most active at dusk and dawn.

There is no specific treatment for EEE. The disease is more effectively prevented by avoiding exposure to mosquitoes, wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts, using insect repellents and staying indoors, whenever possible, at dusk and at dawn. 

 

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