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EEE Threat Prompts Southern Maine School to Change Home Game Schedule
09/04/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

York High School has changed its home game schedule to minimize exposure to mosquitoes. That's because seven sample mosquito pools in York County have tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis. Triple E, as it's sometimes called, is a rare but deadly brain infection that's transmitted through mosquito bites. Since mosquitoes are most active at dusk, school officials say there will be no nighttime games until after the first frost. Patty Wight reports.

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Rob Yandow wears two hats in York - he's the town manager and health officer, where his job is to watch out for the public's health. In the summertime, that means keeping tabs on mosquitoes. And this summer, he says, things seemed awry.

"I was saying a month ago that it was really serious. that we were getting a lot more activity earlier in the year than we have in years past, and we found that to be true and it seems to be escalating," he says.

Yandow's instincts turned out to be on target. York County is the only county in Maine so far this year to test postive for triple E. The first report came in mid-August, and York High School Principal Bob Stevens says his school immediately took action. "We did all the precautions that we're supposed to do, which is, primarily, spray our campus," he says.

Then more positive test results came in from more sample pools, and the York health officer suggested that school officials take extra precautionary measures. "And those precautions are to really try to avoid contact with mosquitoes. And the way to do that is to move nighttime events to daytime," Yandow says.

So, instead of some football games starting in the evening at 6:00 or 7:00 under the lights, all home games for all girls' and boy's sports at York High School will now start at 4:00. State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears says the switch is a step in the right direction.

"We know that the mosquitoes are most likely going to be biting at dusk," he says. "And if the temperature is above 50, and closer to 60, which it's been, then the mosquitoes are going to be out."

Sears says he expected to see triple E in Maine this summer because it had already been found in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. But it appeared earlier than usual. The disease is normally found in birds but is rare in humans because the mosquitoes that carry triple E typically only bite birds.

But some mosquitoes are what's known as "bridge vectors" - they bite a bird, then a human. "And once we know that triple E is at a high concentration in these mosquitoes, then we know the possibility exists for it to spill over into humans," Dr. Sears says.

York High School Principal Bob Stevens says they haven't heard any complaints or concerns from parents, but the sports schedule change isn't permanent. Dr. Sears says it's important to be aware of the disease and take precautions, but there's no reason that other towns need to follow York High School's lead by changing their sports schedules.

And he says next fall, triple E may not be an issue in the area, because where it's specifically found largely depends on the weather. "So it isn't the same year-to-year at this point in time," Dr. Sears says.

Dr. Sears says with warm weather expected in the coming weeks, he expects to find more positive cases of triple E. But once nighttime temperatures hit 50 or below, the risk goes down dramatically. It's one good reason to look forward to cooler weather.


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