Better testing likely contributing to positive West Nile, EEE samples

WESTERLY — A second mosquito sample trapped at Chapman Swamp has tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, leading to reinforced warnings from state health officials for local residents to protect themselves from infection.

The Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Department of Health announced Tuesday that in addition to confirming EEE in a Westerly horse on Thursday and the first human case in West Warwick on Friday, there have now been four EEE detections — two in Central Falls and two in Westerly — and one West Nile Virus detection statewide to date. The West Nile Virus was found in a mosquito in Tiverton.

"Last week DEM and RIDOH, supported by the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, announced that the state would ramp up mosquito testing, control, and outreach measures," DEM spokesman Michael Healey said in a joint press release Tuesday. "Since the last round of trapping on Aug. 26, DEM has added 10 new traps in five new communities and now is trapping at 38 locations in 23 municipalities."

Healey said state health laboratories worked over Labor Day weekend to test the mosquitoes and expedite testing results. In the latest round of trapping, DEM collected 123 pools, or samples, from 28 traps. The testing led to the discovery of a second EEE-positive mosquito sample from the same trap in Chapman Swamp that produced a EEE-positive mosquito detection on Aug. 19.

DEM has trapped two species of mosquitoes that have tested positive for EEE at Chapman swamp this year. Mosquitoes carrying the EEE virus have previously been found in Chapman Swamp in 1996, 2003, 2013, and 2016.

With the input of public health experts at RIDOH and entomology experts at the University of Rhode Island, DEM traps mosquitoes at locations throughout Rhode Island from early June to late September annually. DEM places the traps strategically based on knowledge of the environmental conditions conducive to EEE and West Nile amplification in the mosquito population.

Typically, DEM sets between 25 and 30 traps in Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown, North Kingstown, Exeter, Warwick, Cranston, Johnston, Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, East Providence, Barrington, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton, Portsmouth and Newport.

"The latest trap detections of mosquito disease reaffirm the need for aerial spraying, and as announced on Aug. 30, the state is taking all necessary preparations for conducting spraying to kill both larval and adult mosquitoes," Healey said.

Westerly police confirmed Tuesday that due to the findings at Chapman Swamp, the town will only allow use of the Westerly Dog Park on Larry Hirsch Lane between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day.

On Monday of last week, Department of Health officials also recommended to schools and municipal leaders that games, practices, and other outdoor activities scheduled to occur during early morning or dusk hours be rescheduled to earlier in the afternoon or relocated to an indoor venue.

"The 'smart scheduling' of events is intended to help minimize the risk of mosquito bites for players, coaches, and spectators," Healey said. "(The department) recommends that smart scheduling stay in effect for the remainder of the mosquito season, which typically ends in mid-October, after the first hard frost."

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