By now, most residents of the northeast have probably heard that disease-carrying mosquitoes are especially abundant in the region this year. For weeks, numerous counties in Massachusetts have been on high alert due to the public health threat posed by urban mosquito species infected with eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). Four residents of the state have contracted the disease this year, one of whom recently died as a result of meningitis that had been brought on by EEE.

While four victims may not sound like a large number, it is important to know that EEE was not even considered a significant public health threat in the northeast before this year, and Massachusetts had not seen any residents fall victim to the disease since 2014. Furthermore, the entire US only sees between five to ten cases of EEE per year, and nearly all of these cases occurred in the southeastern states. One third of all those who become infected with EEE end up dying, and antibiotic drugs are ineffective at treating the disease. Considering these facts, many Massachusetts residents are living in fear of mosquitoes, and this is especially true in Fairhaven where residents are finding numerous dead birds all over town. The residents believe that these birds succumbed to EEE, which has prompted numerous phone calls to local public health professionals.

Mosquitoes contract EEE by collecting blood meals from infected birds. Infected mosquitoes then spread the disease by feeding on the blood of additional birds and humans. Residents of Fairhaven believe that the plethora of dead birds found in urban and residential regions indicates that EEE-infected mosquitoes are alarmingly abundant in the town. In response to this concern, residents have been asking local experts if the dead birds are associated with disease-carrying mosquitoes. The Fairhaven Health Department issued a statement saying that they have no way of determining if the birds died from EEE, and the equipment needed to test the dead birds for the disease is lacking at the moment. The statement also urged residents to avoid making contact with the dead birds and not to bring dead birds into the health department. Officials with the health department also said that state public health officials would soon be testing the dead birds for EEE infection. According to experts at Cornell, EEE infection can kill some types of birds, such as pheasants, pigeons and emus. The dead birds in Fairhaven may have met their end due to EEE infection, but for the time being, there is no way to know for sure.

Do you think that the birds in Fairhaven likely died from EEE infection?