AMHERST, Mass. – Officials at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today restricted campus-sponsored nighttime outdoor events as a precautionary measure against mosquito-borne illnesses such as Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). Campus departments and organizations are being encouraged to reschedule such events or move them indoors.
The dusk-to-dawn ban on outdoor events is in accordance with recommendations from the state Department of Public Health for towns designated at high or critical risk for EEE. Amherst is considered a high-risk community, according to DPH, which is urging communities to bar outdoor evening events until the first hard frost.
EEE is a rare viral infection that is dangerous and often fatal to humans, spread through infected mosquito bites. While no human cases of EEE have been reported in the state this year, two horses in Belchertown have died from the disease during the past two weeks and mosquitoes caught in Amherst have tested positive for the virus.
UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy approved the action, which was recommended by campus health and safety officials. The decision to reschedule evening events was made in consultation with Amherst town officials, who are taking the same steps. Several other western Massachusetts communities, including Belchertown and Northfield, are canceling or rescheduling outdoor school-related events after dusk.
The emergence of EEE in the Amherst area comes a month earlier than last year, so campus officials note that the dusk-to-dawn ban on events will follow DPH recommendations for cancellation times as days grow shorter through the fall months. The DPH recommendations are available at www.ehs.umass.edu/health-advisory-eastern-equine-encephalitis.
Campus employees, visitors and students are being advised of the EEE risk and steps they can take to protect their health. Information is also being sent to parents of students prior to the opening of the school year. Educational efforts with students and other members of the campus community will continue until health officials determine the EEE risk has subsided.
All members of the campus community are being urged to limit evening outdoor activities and to take precautions such as using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and long pants, and avoiding areas where mosquitoes are prevalent. Insect repellent is available at University Health Services and the University Store.
On campus, the grounds staff is applying larvicide to areas of standing water to prevent mosquito breeding. Contractors are being advised of the DPH warnings and are being urged to take precautions to safeguard their workers.
More information on EEE is available at www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/id/epidemiology/providers/public-health-cdc-arbovirus-info.html