Norton has become the first Sun Chronicle area community to be declared at critical risk for Eastern equine encephalitis.
The state Department of Public Health made the announcement Friday after a young goat in town tested positive for EEE. According to the DPH website, it is the first animal in the state to come down with EEE.
“Due to the discovery of EEE in an animal in town and in an abundance of caution, all town forests, parks and ballfields will be closed from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. until further notice per the board of health,” town police posted on social media.
Easton, which borders Norton and Mansfield, and Raynham also were put in the critical risk category.
Meanwhile, Attleboro has been upgraded from moderate to high risk, and Rehoboth and Dighton remain at high risk.
Also, North Attleboro, Mansfield and Foxboro have been increased from low to moderate risk. Seekonk remains at moderate risk.
DPH also announced Friday that lab tests have confirmed a second case of EEE virus infection in a human in Massachusetts. The victim is a man between the ages of 19 to 30 from eastern Worcester County.
The risk level in seven communities in that area have been raised to critical as a result. Last week, it was announced a man over 60 years old in Plymouth County had been infected, and it was later learned that he is from Rochester and had been in a coma.
Until this year, the last human case of EEE in Massachusetts occurred in 2013.
“The most intense level of EEE activity is still being seen in Bristol and Plymouth counties,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said. “However, in active EEE years, the virus may move outside of southeastern Massachusetts. This is evidence of that movement.”
Last week, Norton, Rehoboth, Dighton and Easton were sprayed by airplanes for mosquitoes in response to the growing threat of EEE. It marked the first time in seven years planes have been used for the spraying.
DPH and the state Department of Agricultural Resources conducted aerial spraying in other areas of Bristol and Plymouth counties last week, and a second round of spraying is planned for later next week.
While less than an ounce per acre of the pesticide Anvil 10+10 will be sprayed and it is considered safe, area residents are advised by health officials to bring pets indoors and cover ornamental ponds.
There are 19 communities now at critical risk, 18 at high risk, and 24 at moderate risk, and EEE virus has been found in 288 mosquito samples this year, many of them from species capable of spreading the virus to people.
August is when there is the highest chance of EEE infection in humans, according to DPH officials. But mosquitoes can be active and a threat into fall, and they also carry the dangerous West Nile virus, authorities say.
Area residents are advised to apply insect repellent and wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors, eliminate standing water and install/repair screens.
Rescheduling evening outdoor events to avoid the hours between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active is advised.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation has canceled evening programming at state parks in the area until the EEE risk levels have decreased. The state parks include Dighton Rock State Park, Myles Standish State Forest, and Rehoboth State Forest.
Animal owners should dump standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools — especially after heavy rains. Water troughs provide excellent mosquito breeding habitats and should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months to reduce mosquitoes near paddock areas.
Horses should be kept in indoor stalls at night. Owners should also speak with their veterinarian about mosquito repellents approved for use in animals and vaccinations to prevent WNV and EEE. If an animal is suspected of having WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to DAR, Division of Animal Health at 617-626-1795 and to the DPH at 617-983-6800.
EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that impacts the brain and can affect people of all ages. The most recent outbreaks occurred from 2004-2006 and 2010-2012, when there were 22 human cases of EEE infection in Massachusetts.
More information, including West Nile virus and EEE-positive results and updated community risks, can be found at www.mass.gov/mosquito-borne-diseases, www.mass.gov/dph/mosquito, or by calling the DPH Epidemiology Program at 617-983-6800.
Residents are encouraged to visit the DPH website at www.mass.gov/guides/aerial-mosquito-control-summer-2019 for the latest updates on spraying in their communities.
For questions about mosquito control in your city or town, contact your local board of health.