Town, school officials take precautions to protect against EEE

A group of female mosquitoes wait to be processed for testing at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Local officials are taking precautions to protect people against Eastern equine encephalitis, a virus spread by mosquitoes that has killed three people in the state this year.

On Tuesday, state Department of Public Health State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Cartter announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a third Connecticut resident died from EEE. The person, an East Haddam resident who was between 60 and 69 years old, became ill during the second week of September and died the next week.

The CDC also confirmed that a Colchester resident who got sick in August has EEE. That person is in their 40s and remains in the hospital, Cartter said in a news release.

The virus has been found in horses, birds or mosquitoes in 21 towns in the state.

Cartter said in the news release the four human cases of EEE are unprecedented in the state. Before this year, he said, there was only one human case of EEE in Connecticut, which was in 2013.

Cartter said the four people were most likely exposed to infected mosquitoes between Aug. 11 and Sept. 8, which was the peak period of mosquito activity in Connecticut.

On Monday, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station identified EEE virus in mosquitoes that were trapped last week in its Bethany and Middlefield sites, according to a DPH news release.

Bethany borders Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and Prospect. Until the first hard frost of the year kills mosquitoes, health officials are advising people to minimize exposure, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, and to take precautions.

“There’s a low risk to the population. That does not mean there’s no risk,” Chesprocott Health District Director of Health Maura Esposito said.

Chesprocott is the health district for Prospect, Cheshire and Wolcott. Naugatuck Valley Health District serves Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and four other Valley towns.

For residents of towns that make up the Naugatuck Valley Health District, the risk of acquiring any mosquito-borne disease is close to zero at this time of year, a news release issued by the health district stated.

“Connecticut, particularly the southeastern part of the state, and our neighboring states in New England, are seeing an unusually high presence of EEE detected this year,” said NVHD Director of Health Jessica Stelmaszek in the news release. “However, I want to remind Valley residents that the risk of transmission in the western part of the state remains very low. Even though the risk is low, residents should still practice precautions to avoid being bit.”

Health officials are advising residents to take preventive measures, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, using bug repellent, ensuring windows and doors have screens, clearing any standing water, and not to camp overnight near freshwater swamps.

Local school and town officials have taken their own steps, as well.

In Region 16, the public school system for Beacon Falls and Prospect, officials announced Tuesday that all outdoor activities for the district have to end by 5:30 p.m. until further notice, including games and practices for sports teams.

School officials moved kickoff for the Woodland Regional High School football game at Wolcott High School on Friday to 3:30 p.m. Woodland’s next home football game was scheduled for Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. It’s been moved to Oct. 12 at 10:30 a.m.

In Beacon Falls, First Selectman Christopher Bielik said officials suspended town-sponsored activities at parks and closed Matthies Park at 5:30 p.m. for a couple days. The town returned to normal activities Thursday, after consulting with health officials, he said.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said all town parks were closed to youth athletic leagues on Tuesday.

Based on the recommendation of the town and health officials, Prospect Recreation Director Christopher Moffo said town sports leagues will be allowed to play and practice in town parks until 5:30 p.m. until further notice.

Chatfield added the town is also treating areas of standing water with a product to kill mosquito larva, and will look into how to handle mosquitoes again in the spring.

“We’re certainly going to have to do something in the spring,” Chatfield said.

In a Tuesday letter to the community, Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke wrote officials will monitor and adjust outdoor activities on a daily basis according to weather conditions and in coordination with other schools.

On Wednesday, Naugatuck schools imposed a 5:30 p.m. curfew for outdoor activities to minimize the risk and exposure to mosquitoes after dusk, said Naugatuck High School Dean of Student Life Brian Mariano, who is also serving as athletic director. The district’s physician recommended the curfew, he said, and the high school will adjust any games scheduled at night.

Officials postponed the Naugatuck High football game against Watertown High School, originally set for Friday night in Naugatuck, to Nov. 22.

Locke added custodial staff will treat areas of stagnant water around each school to kill mosquito larva.

“We will also continue to stay in communication with our health and medical advisers and adjust our plans as necessary,” Locke wrote.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.

Editor’s note: This article was updated from the original post to include updated information on Prospect allowing town sports leagues to play and practice until 5:30 p.m. until further notice, comments from the Naugatuck Valley Health District, Naugatuck schools imposing a 5:30 p.m. curfew for sports, and Beacon Falls returning to normal activities.