Disease-carrying mosquitoes are not usually considered a major public health threat in residential areas of Maine, but this year an unprecedented amount of people living in the northeast United States have contracted eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) from the bites of infected mosquitoes. More than a dozen people in the region have contracted the disease this year, two of which have already died from complications related to EEE. Although no human EEE cases have been reported in Maine, health authorities in the state are concerned after a horse tested positive for the disease in York County last month.

In response to the EEE epidemic in the northeast, officials with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services are urging residents to take precautions against mosquito bites before stepping outdoors. Officials are also urging residents to remove all sources of standing water from their properties, as the mosquitoes that carry EEE and West Nile virus in Maine breed within these suburban water sources. The last EEE case reported in Maine occurred in 2015, and mosquitoes contract the disease by feeding on the infected blood of livestock and birds. These infected mosquitoes then transmit the disease to humans with their bites. There is no vaccine or reliable treatment regimen to combat EEE infection, and the disease is fatal in one third of all cases.

Outdoor activity is not recommended once dusk arrives, as mosquitoes are most active around this time. If being outdoors is a necessity around dusk, wearing permethrin-treated clothing and/or DEET repellents will help to repel mosquitoes and prevent bites. The risk of contracting EEE, the West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases increases toward the end of summer and during the early fall in the northeast. Several mosquito species, like Culex pipiens, are suspected reservoirs of diseases like EEE and West Nile in Maine, but the Aedes Japonicus mosquito species is considered the primary vector in the state. This species is most abundant in residential and wooded areas where they seek out small puddles and stagnant water on residential yards for breeding.

Have you ever found a mass of mosquitoes hovering around a small body of water in a residential area?