By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — CONCORD — Just days after the state Department of Health and Human Services announced the first human case of West Nile virus in two years, Gov. John Lynch and the department took action Friday that allows municipalities to act against the insects.
Late Friday, Lynch issued a statement, agreeing with a recommendation from DHHS that a public health threat exists in Southern New Hampshire.
The move, permitted under state statute, allows towns to take action, including spraying, to lower the public health risk from mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus or Eastern equine encephalitis.
DHHS Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas sent Lynch a letter a day earlier, requesting the move, which allows for expedited action.
“The declaration is an administrative mechanism that used to allow the state to provide financial support to cities and towns for spraying,” said Dr. Jose Montero, the state’s public health director. “What it does is allow the Department of Agriculture to expedite the permit process for spraying.”
That’s usually a lengthy process for towns, anywhere from eight to 12 weeks, Montero said. The declaration allows that to happen within a couple of days.
Montero was on a conference call Friday afternoon with public health directors from around the country and CDC officials.
“The situation with mosquito-borne illness is we have no way of predicting what is going to happen. They just happen,” he said. “Everybody is trying to figure it out and no one can explain it.”
In the past month, 36 mosquito batches from Southern New Hampshire have tested positive for West Nile virus, mirroring what’s happening nationally this summer.
As of last week, 47 states have reported West Nile infections in mosquito batches, people or birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The total number of human cases had reached 1,118, with 41 deaths.
A Manchester man, who has since recovered, is the state’s only human case to date. In fact, it’s the first one since September 2010.
“The number of WNV positive mosquito batches thus far in 2012 represents the highest number to test positive in New Hampshire in the last 10 years,” Toumpas wrote.
The declaration affects 45 municipalities, including Atkinson, Danville, Derry, Hampstead, Kingston, Londonderry, Newton, Pelham, Plaistow, Salem, Sandown and Windham.
Londonderry sprayed many of its fields, parks and playgrounds on Aug. 20 and Derry did the same this Monday.
It’s not the first time DHHS and the governor had made such a move. It’s happened several times since 2006, in response to West Nile and EEE.
“Such declarations have been critical in communicating the risk of disease and enabling the local governments to enact appropriate mosquito control activities,” Toumpas wrote to Lynch.
Dragon Mosquito Control of Stratham handles mosquito-thwarting efforts for 26 towns. Company owner Sarah MacGregor said earlier this month she’s never seen so many positive tests for West Nile this early in the year.
“Normally, the peak time is late August-early September,” Montero said. “But, in this particular year, everything is on the table because nobody can explain what is happening.”
It’s happening in Massachusetts, too.
A third human case of West Nile virus was confirmed in the Bay State Driday. Risk levels have been elevated to moderate and high in some communities.
Mosquito batches have tested positive for West Nile virus in 83 municipalities in nine counties so far. Massachusetts also has reported mosquitoes infected with EEE, with some towns’ threat levels for that disease at high or critical.
“These findings underscore the serious need to use personal protective measures at all times,” Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach said in a prepared statement. “Use insect repellent, cover up exposed skin, and avoid outdoor activities at dusk and nighttime, when mosquitoes are at their most active.”
Montero, too, urges residents and visitors to take precautions, but not to avoid outdoor activity.
“I want people to be out there. We have an incredibly beautiful state,” he said. “But use mosquito repellent. People who don’t want to use chemicals can use eucalyptus or lemon oil, but it must be reapplied frequently.”
This is a national concern, he stressed.
“We’re seeing a big increase in our findings in positive mosquito pools, but we cannot look at New Hampshire in isolation,” Montero said. “Nationally, it’s the worst outbreak ever. Mosquitoes could care less where the borders are drawn.”
Mosquito-borne illness symptoms West Nile virus About 80 percent of people infected exhibit no symptoms. About 20 percent of those infected have symptoms including fever, headache, body ache, nausea, vomiting, sometimes swollen lymph glands, sometimes a rash on the chest, stomach and back. About one in 150 people infected have high fever, headache, stiff neck, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Eastern equine encephalitis Severe cases of EEE begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The illness can progress into disorientation, seizures and coma. Approximately one-third of patients who develop EEE die. Many who survive have mild to severe brain damage. Source: Centers for Disease Control