PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Health announced Friday that an over-year-old 50 man from West Warwick had contracted Eastern Equine Encephalitis, the state’s first human case of EEE since 2010. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which performs EEE testing, notified the department of the positive result earlier in the day.
On Thursday, the state Department of Environmental Management reported that a horse in Westerly had been euthanized after contracting EEE. The foal, a 6-month-old Belgian horse, had been too young to be vaccinated against the virus. Over the past few weeks, mosquitoes carrying the disease had been found in Westerly and Central Falls.
"This is a higher-than-average risk summer for mosquito-borne diseases in southeastern New England," the health department said, noting that Massachusetts has announced four human cases of EEE and seven cases in horses. Connecticut also has found EEE and West Nile Virus in mosquitoes and two cases in horses.
“There is a high risk for transmission of disease to humans through mosquito bites,” said Ana Novais, deputy director of the health department. “EEE is a rare, but very serious disease. We strongly recommend that people everywhere in Rhode Island protect themselves and their families by using insect repellent, minimizing outdoor exposure at dusk and dawn, and wearing long sleeves and pants when outdoors at those times. People must also reduce opportunities for mosquitoes to breed by eliminating standing water around their homes.”
To respond to the elevated risk, DEM is adding traps to capture and test more mosquitoes statewide. 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. DEM will add traps in West Warwick, Burrillville, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, and Cumberland.
"This step will allow scientists from DEM and the University of Rhode Island to optimize other response measures, such as the aerial spraying of pesticide, to continually assess mosquito species, volume, and infection and, working with RIDOH, minimize the risk of further human disease," the health department said.
A press release on Friday said that the state would seek to eliminate both mosquito larvae and adult biting mosquitoes. Larvicide consists of a naturally occurring bacteria in solid granule form dropped from a helicopter onto mosquito breeding grounds such as swamps. For example, because of Chapman Swamp’s history as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry EEE, the Town of Westerly has applied a larvicide called Bti in the swamp since 1997.
The state said it was taking all necessary preparations for conducting aerial spraying to kill adult biting mosquitoes. The health department and DEM said they were evaluating options and would release a spraying schedule before any spraying occurs.
Previous recommendations from the health department are still in effect. Schools and towns have been advised 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 so-called smart scheduling is intended to minimize the risk of mosquito bites during the mosquito season, which typically ends in mid-October, after the first hard frost.