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It’s code red for EEE in nine communities south of Boston

A map showing the critical and high-risk areas for Eastern equine encephalitis south of Boston.
A map showing the critical and high-risk areas for Eastern equine encephalitis south of Boston. (Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

There will be no more evening concerts on the lawn at Middleborough Town Hall this summer — forget about hearing the Vegas Valentinos — and all outdoor activities, including youth football, have been canceled in Carver from dusk to dawn.

Similar restrictions are in place throughout Southeastern Massachusetts until the first frost eliminates the danger of contracting the dangerous mosquito-borne disease Eastern equine encephalitis in what state officials are calling a “really bad year” for the disease.

The virus had been found in 232 mosquito pools tested south of Boston as of Aug. 12, and the state Department of Public Health has designated nine communities as “critical areas” where people are most at risk: Acushnet, Carver, Freetown, Lakeville, Marion, Middleborough, northeastern New Bedford, Rochester, and Wareham.

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In addition, 15 communities in the region have been ranked at high risk, and 18 more cities and towns are at moderate risk, officials said.

The DPH also reported the first case of human EEE infection since 2013: a man over 60 from Plymouth County who has been hospitalized.

The current number of positive tests is comparable to 2012, when the state found EEE in 267 mosquito samples. There were seven human cases of the disease that year in Massachusetts, and 15 cases nationwide.

State epidemiologist Catherine Brown cited the weather – a wet fall, spring, and early summer, plus hot temperatures – for the high population of all types of mosquitoes this summer, including those that can infect humans with EEE when they bite.

She also said that the EEE virus was detected early this year – in early July – and quickly jumped from mosquitoes that don’t infect people to those that do.

Brown said EEE tends to occur in cycles, with two or three “really bad years with increased risk for human cases, followed by minimal activity.” She noted 2012 “was our last very, very active EEE year, and the seven intervening years have been quite quiet. What we have seen so far this year is what we tend to see in the most active years.”

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Only two positive samples for EEE were found in all of 2018, according to state officials.

“Personal prevention is absolutely critical,” said Brown, noting that precautions are needed even though mosquito control agencies have been spraying Bristol and Plymouth counties from the air and land to kill the dangerous mosquitoes.

Specific information on where the spraying is taking place is available at https://www.mass.gov/guides/aerial-mosquito-control-summer-2019 .

The disease was first identified in people in 1938 and is rare: Fewer than 100 cases have been reported in Massachusetts since then.

But three out of every 10 people who contract EEE die, and very few recover completely, according to the DPH.

Symptoms include high fever, stiff neck, headaches, and lack of energy. The disease can lead to swelling of the brain and neurological damage.

“Talk to your neighbors. Spread the word so everyone knows the danger,” the Carver Board of Health posted on the town website.

The board also issued warnings to wear long sleeves and pants, use DEET insect repellant, repair screens, get rid of standing water near homes, and avoid being outside from dusk to dawn.

A much smaller number of West Nile virus samples — 35 statewide — also have been detected, including in Carver, Easton, Kingston, Halifax, Middleborough, Pembroke, Raynham, Taunton, and Whitman.

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Johanna Seltz can be reached at [email protected] .