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Cambridge Resident Diagnosed with West Nile Virus

Risk level is "Moderate" in Cambridge

September 13, 2019

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced on Sept. 11 that a Cambridge resident was diagnosed with West Nile virus.  
The resident, a man in his 60s, became ill at the beginning of September and was hospitalized. State health officials believe the resident acquired West Nile virus from infected mosquitoes in Cambridge.
On Sept. 12, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health raised the risk of West Nile virus infection from "low" to “moderate” in Cambridge and seven other communities: Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Boston, Newton, Somerville, and Watertown.
The resident is the first human case of West Nile virus reported in Massachusetts this year. This has been a mild season for West Nile virus, with relatively few mosquito samples testing positive for the virus across the state.
“We urge residents to take precautions against mosquito bites, especially after dusk,” said Claude Jacob, chief public health officer and director of the Cambridge Public Health Department. “You can protect yourself by using repellents, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants in the evening hours, and moving indoors if mosquitoes are biting you.”
Most human West Nile virus infections are mild with no symptoms, but a small number of people become very sick with encephalitis or meningitis. For those who have symptoms, they include fever and flu-like illness. More severe symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, tremors, muscle weakness, and paralysis.
If you think you have symptoms of West Nile virus, contact your doctor or nurse.
“People over 50 and those with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk for severe illness, and should consider curtailing outdoor activities after dusk and in the very early morning hours,” said Jacob.
The risk of human infection from West Nile virus is considered to be generally low throughout the Commonwealth this year, but the risk of another mosquito-borne disease, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), is high or critical in over 70 Massachusetts communities outside the Interstate 95/Route 128 loop.
While there is minimal risk of EEE infection in Cambridge and neighboring communities, residents should be vigilant in protecting themselves against mosquito bites when visiting parts of the state at higher risk for EEE. 
The easiest and best way to prevent mosquito-borne disease is to avoid mosquito bites. Some tips:
  • Apply insect repellant when outdoors. Use insect repellant containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. Follow the directions on the package. DEET products should not be used on infants under two months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30% or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age.
  • Be aware of peak mosquito hours. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning.
  • Clothing can help reduce mosquito bites. Wearing long-sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.
  • Get rid of mosquito breeding sites in your yard. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water. Empty standing water from flower pots, buckets, barrels, and children’s pools. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out.
  • Make sure that window and door screens fit tightly and are in good condition.
To find out the risk of WNV and EEE infection in individual Massachusetts cities and towns, see: mass.gov/info-details/massachusetts-arbovirus-daily-update.

Additional information about mosquito-borne disease can be found on the state health department website at mass.gov/mosquito-borne-diseases.

For local West Nile virus updates and prevention tips, call the Cambridge Public Health Department at 617-665-3838 or visit the department's West Nile virus web page.


Suzy Feinberg, MPH
Public Information Officer

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