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MIT responds to threat of mosquito-borne illnesses

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced on August 15 that two mosquito samples in Cambridge had tested positive for West Nile virus (WNV). Positive mosquito samples have also been detected in Boston and other nearby communities. In addition, two reported human cases of mosquito-borne eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), a potentially fatal illness, have occurred in Massachusetts this summer. 

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services updates risk levels daily. For Cambridge residents, the current risk level of WNV is considered “low,” while the the risk of EEE is “remote.” But the risk may change or be higher where you live or work. Aerial spraying has already begun in areas south and west of Boston, where risks are higher. 

Although current risk levels for mosquito-borne illnesses may be low, MIT Medical recommends taking steps to reduce your chances of being bitten. In addition to using mosquito repellant, MIT Medical recommends covering up with long-sleeved shirts, loose pants, and socks if you are going to be outdoors in the early mornings or evenings, when mosquitos are most active. 

Precautions are especially important for student-athletes who are outside for evening games and practices, notes Chief of Student Health Shawn Ferullo. “We’ve asked coaches to remind players about the importance of using mosquito repellant and to make repellent available at practices and games,” he says.

Clinicians at MIT Medical are alert to possible cases of mosquito-borne illnesses, Ferullo continues. Both WNV and EEE may begin with flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, and muscle aches. WNV often includes a skin rash, and serious cases of EEE may include the sudden onset of severe neurological symptoms.  While WNV can cause severe illness in individuals older than 60, younger people generally recover with no complications.

The risk period will most likely continue until the first hard frost, Ferullo says, and that probably won’t occur until the end of October or later.  

More information on mosquito-borne illnesses is available from the Cambridge Public Health Department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

  This news story has not been updated since the date shown. Information contained in this story may be outdated. For current information about MIT Medical’s services, please see relevant areas of the MIT Medical website.

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