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Mosquito-Borne Illness Forces Race Postponement: Should Event Owners Worry?

18 Sep, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Mosquitoes are hungry, and despite the season, they’re not craving pumpkin spice. As the calendar turns to fall, they are still around – and still causing problems for sports event owners.

In Medway, Massachusetts, the Medway Police Chase 5K, set for the Labor Day weekend, was postponed due to concerns of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus.

EEE is a virus spread by mosquitoes. While it is similar to West Nile Virus, it primarily affects people in the Eastern U.S, according to Runner’s World, which carried the news.

The disease, still comparatively rare, can cause inflammation in the brain (encephalitits). It has been reported in parts of the Great Lakes region, along the Eastern seaboard, and the Gulf Coast.

Now, a fifth case in humans has just been confirmed in Massachusetts, and EEE activity has been detected in 10 counties there, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health. The race postponement is only one part of the precautions being taken; many outdoor activities in areas of concern have been canceled or postponed as well.

“On Thursday, August 29th, the Department of Public Health placed Medway in a critical risk level, and soon after, the town of Medway instituted an outside activity curfew of 6 p.m.,” a spokesperson for the Medway Police Association told Runner’s World. “Due to the severity of the issue, the race organizers determined that holding the race would pose too great a risk to our runners, volunteers, sponsors, vendors and event staff.”

The event will be rescheduled for mid-to-late October and will be announced as soon as it is finalized. Information can be found on the race website.

Organizers are quick to point out that while most people who are bitten by infected mosquitoes are not affected by EEE, the problem is that many of the disease’s symptoms are generalized, including fever, headache and neck stiffness – and can easily be mistaken for less problematic illnesses. In extreme cases, victims will have seizures or an altered mental state – and those patients, whose symptoms are caused by encephalitis, generally do not survive.

Preventing the problems means first, avoiding areas where mosquitoes breed (freshwater hardwood swamps or bogs are likely culprits). Infections usually occur from late spring to early fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine at this time, which means that in addition to avoiding breeding grounds, individuals should also avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active (dawn and dusk), wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants if possible, and using EPA-approved insect repellents that contain ingredients such as picaridin, DEET, or IR3535. A list of EPA approved products can be found here.

And EEE isn’t the only concern when it comes to mosquitoes. The Miami-Dade area issued a mosquito-borne illness alertafter a county resident was diagnosed with dengue fever. It was the third case of dengue fever confirmed in the county in 2019. Dengue is a virus spread through mosquito bites through the Aedes mosquitoes which also spread chikungunya and Zika virus.

And, like EEE, it has generalized symptoms, particularly in the early stages: headache; eye pain (typically behind the eyes); muscle, joint, or bone pain; rash; nausea and vomiting.

There may also be unusual bleeding (nose or gum bleed, small red spots under the skin, or unusual bruising). Severe dengue can occur resulting in shock, internal bleeding and death. 

The Maryland Department of Health has also reported the state’s first case of West Nile Virus found in a resident this year. In Louisiana, the West Baton Rouge Parish Council devoted a special page on its website to mosquito-borne diseases. The page notes, “Apart from disease mosquitoes also cause nuisance problems for rural home owners and ruin recreational activities such as hunting and outdoor sports.”

Unfortunately, the calendar is still full of tournaments in freshwater sports including fishing, triathlons and SUP, where competitors and staff will spend a lot of time on, around or even in the water. The CDC website has information on EEE as well. (There are risk maps for various diseases, updated regularly).

Unfortunately, diseases carried by mosquitoes (including Zika, malaria St. Louis encephaliltis and others) are manifold and they seem to riddle sports events particularly, even leading to an uptick in pesticide companies offering to spray soccer fields and other outdoor venues– despite warnings that there could be wider environmental consequences from this.

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