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MIT responds to threat of mosquito-borne illnesses

This summer's West Nile virus (WNV) outbreak in Massachusetts has been the most widespread since 2000, and there also have been several human cases of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in the state. Fall is here now, but public health officials say that the outbreak may not yet have peaked and, in fact, recently raised the risk of mosquito-borne illness in Cambridge from “high” to “critical.”

“The Institute and MIT Medical have responded to the heightened risk,” says Chief of Medicine Howard Heller, M.D., an infectious disease specialist. “MIT's Department of Facilities has sprayed storm drains with a larvaecide and posted signs around campus advising people to take precautions.” Since mosquitos are most active between dusk and dawn, student-athletes who are outside for evening games and practices are at particularly high risk, Heller explains. “We've asked coaches to remind players about the importance of using mosquito repellent and to make mosquito repellent available at practices and games.”

Clinicians at MIT Medical are “alert to possible cases of WNV or EEE on campus,” Heller notes, “but so far, none have been seen.” Noting that the risk will continue until the first hard frost — which probably won't occur until the end of October — Heller reminds members of the community to continue taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites. In addition to using mosquito repellent, he says, it may help to cover up with “long-sleeved shirts, loose pants and socks” if you are going to be outdoors during peak mosquito biting times.

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

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