- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont has expanded its monitoring for mosquito-borne West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis to all 14 counties this year, following the deaths of two people in 2012.

The state added testing in Essex County in northeastern Vermont and the southern county of Bennington, with the addition of two more staff for a total of eight.

“Last year we’re just spread pretty thin. We couldn’t get up to Essex County or down into Bennington County because they’re both pretty far away. So we’re there now. We have more staffing and we have more people identifying mosquitoes,” said state entomologist Alan Graham.

In September of 2012, an 89-year-old man from Brandon and a 49-year-old man from Sudbury died from EEE, a rare and potentially fatal brain infection spread by mosquitoes. It was the first time Vermont had detected the disease in humans. The following year, two horses in Franklin County succumbed to the disease.

Since then, the state’s monitoring efforts have grown from a part-time program before 2012 to a full state survey this year. The work is funded by a $525,250 general fund appropriation that also goes to help fight mosquitoes in the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury and Goshen areas and for possible aerial pesticide spraying to reduce the threat of the disease.

Officials know that EEE occurs throughout the state, based on a survey that detected antibodies in deer and moose in every county. The mosquito species that tend to carry EEE prefer hardwood acidic swamps.

Last year, the virus appeared to be at lower levels in Vermont than the previous two years, Graham said. So far this year, the state has tested 706 mosquito pools and neither of the viruses has been found. But EEE starts to show up in mosquitoes in late July and is at a higher rate of transmission in August and September.

Officials advise residents to take precautions against mosquito bites by avoiding outdoor activities at dusk and dawn, wearing long sleeves and pants, and using effective insect repellant.

Most people who contract West Nile virus will not become sick. Those who are sickened by West Nile or EEE will have flu-like symptoms, for one to two weeks. In more severe cases, the viruses can invade the brain and spinal cord.

Vaccines are available for horses to prevent EEE and West Nile virus. Llamas, alpacas and emus also can be immunized with the horse vaccine, the state Health Department said.

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