Four more horses have tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis, prompting the risk level for infection to rise to critical in four new Massachusetts towns, health officials said Thursday.
Brookfield, Granby, Holliston and Medfield are now at critical risk for the rare and potentially deadly virus that's transmitted via mosquitoes. Twenty-eight communities in Massachusetts are now at critical risk, 37 at high risk and 126 at moderate risk, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
"As we head into the Labor Day weekend and the month of September people should not forget to bring and use an EPA-approved mosquito repellent for any outdoor activities," Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement.
"We got the bug spray and we said we're going to come out now, before the mosquitoes come out," one mom at Lake Winthrop said Thursday.
All nighttime outdoor school activities have been cancelled or rescheduled.
"We're just staying inside after dusk," said resident Alecia Thomas. "Normally, we would have had dinner at the pool, hang out for the evening. I just said, 'We've got to go home.'"
At the Out Post Farm, the outside tables weren't as busy as usual, with people opting to eat inside or get takeout.
The farm is taking extra steps to protect its workers.
"We have field crews who are out at night," said co-owner Kevin Drake. "We're actually making them come in at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, so we're trying to get all our work done beforehand because we know at dusk, mosquitoes are coming out."
Four people across Massachusetts have been diagnosed with EEE this summer, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health. The family of one woman said she died after being diagnosed, though health officials haven't confirmed that.
On Wednesday, New Hampshire reported its first EEE diagnosis in a horse of the year.
Seven horses in Massachusetts have tested positive for EEE this year, according to the state health department. A goat has also tested positive.
EEE is a mosquito-borne virus that can affect the nervous system and kills about 1 in 3 people who contract it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state has been spraying from airplanes to help mitigate the mosquito population, and the town of Holliston said Thursday it will begin spraying from trucks over the weekend as well.
To protect against EEE, use bug spray, wear long sleeves and pants outdoors and avoid activities in the evening and early morning, when mosquitoes are most active, health officials say.
Before this year, the last EEE outbreak in Massachusetts was between 2010 and 2012.