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MIT responds to West Nile virus threat‬‬

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Photo: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

No human cases of West Nile virus (WNV) have been reported in Massachusetts this year; however, mosquitoes in Cambridge and surrounding communities recently tested positive for the virus, prompting public health officials to raise the risk of mosquito-borne illness in Cambridge from “low” to “moderate.”

“The Institute and MIT Medical have responded to this heightened risk level,” says Howard Heller, MIT Medical's associate medical director and an infectious disease specialist. “MIT’s Department of Facilities is partnering with the City of Cambridge this week to spray storm drains and catch basins on campus with a larvicide.”

Since mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn, student athletes who are outside for evening games and practices could be at higher risk, Heller says. “We’ve asked coaches to remind players about the importance of using mosquito repellant and to make mosquito repellent available at practices and games," he says.

Clinicians at MIT Medical are alert to possible cases of the virus, Heller notes, adding that symptoms may include fever, headache, neck stiffness, or cognitive dysfunction. While the disease can be severe, even fatal, in individuals older than 60, younger people generally recover with no complications.

Noting that the risk is likely to continue until the first hard frost — which probably won’t occur until the end of October — Heller reminds members of the community to take precautions. In addition to using mosquito repellant, 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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