Youth sports players are passing around insect repellent and clearing out of town fields before dusk as a growing number of communities fall under heightened alert for mosquitoes infected with Eastern equine encephalitis, a deadly virus.
“People are taking it seriously. Parents are out there with the bug spray,’’ said Tony Pina, president of Marshfield Youth Soccer. He carries insect repellent and, if a player is without, sprays it on with parental permission.
Health officials in Marshfield and Norwell, two communities not accustomed to an urgent EEE threat, recently ordered all activities on town property to cease by 6:15 p.m. until dawn, a regulation local officials put in play Sept. 13 by alerting schools, athletic directors, and coaches, and residents through reverse 911 phone calls.
The restrictions came soon after state health officials confirmed a Marshfield resident in his 60s was hospitalized with EEE, the fourth human case in the state this year. The Department of Public Health upgraded the EEE threat level to “high’’ in Marshfield and nearby towns, including Duxbury, Norwell, and Plymouth.
The restrictions on outdoor activities because of the EEE mosquito threat have become commonplace and affect communities not used to such dangers, said Norwell’s health agent, Brian Flynn.
“It has left a lot of athletic directors scrambling to reschedule games and find field time during daytime hours. We’ll just have to see how it plays out in Norwell,’’ he said. “I think most of the South Shore is at heightened risk status for EEE now.’’
In Hanover, local officials banned activities on school and town fields after 6 p.m. and sent residents the news by emergency alert on Sept. 12 after mosquitoes in town tested positive for EEE.
The health scare is increasingly affecting youth sports such as soccer, football, and cheerleading all over the region, as the EEE virus continues to spread among mosquitoes at an alarming rate. The virus causes brain swelling that results in death in a third of all cases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the cases this year, a Worcester County resident in his 70s died.
In recent weeks, as more communities have learned from state health officials that residents are at heightened risk due to EEE-infected mosquitoes, alpacas, horses, and humans, local health boards and schools have aimed to reschedule sports activities.
According to state health officials, the EEE threat is “critical’’ for residents of Bridgewater, Easton, Halifax, Plympton, Raynham, Rochester, West Bridgewater, and Taunton. It is “high’’ for residents in many others, including Acushnet, Braintree, Canton, Carver, Duxbury, East Bridgewater, Freetown, Hanover, Hanson, Kingston, Lakeville, Marion, Marshfield, Middleborough, Norton, Norwell, Pembroke, Plymouth, and Wareham.
A high school football game in Wareham planned for Friday evening was moved two hours earlier and school sports were rescheduled to end by 6 p.m, according to the district’s superintendent.
In Marshfield, parents of youth sports players are adjusting to activities ending earlier, said Pina, the head of youth soccer in town. He said players now clear the field at 6:10 p.m.
“We want players to have time to get off the field before dusk,’’ Pina said. “It helps that we play against towns that have been through this and operated under this kind of restriction. I think everyone is kind of just accepting it,’’ he said, adding, “Parents did great this weekend.’’
Early in July, mosquitoes tested positive for the virus in Easton, known as an EEE epicenter due to its proximity to Hockomock Swamp, a vast wetlands and prime breeding ground. Within weeks, 21 communities in southeastern Massachusetts were blanketed with pesticide after mosquitoes in multiple towns tested positive for the virus.
Over the summer, Easton canceled or postponed children’s events and concerts after dusk. Canton advised residents to avoid outdoor activities after 6 p.m., forcing adult softball teams to call off night games on town fields. Lakeville police enacted a curfew that shut down play at town-owned properties, including the Ted Williams Camp.
Mark Taylor, a health agent in Easton, said his town’s advisory against outdoor sports and recreation after dusk has met with about 95 percent compliance.
“The overall consensus is, why haven’t you banned activities earlier?’’ he said, describing a cheerleading coach who raised funds so girls could practice at an indoor gymnasium and avoid outdoor exposure by the swamp.
He said people should use common sense and remove children from sports if mosquitoes come out — even if their town’s regulation allows the game to end in another 15 or 20 minutes.
“If you are getting eaten alive, grab your kid and leave,’’ he said. “It’s Pop Warner, you know what I mean? Get your kid out of there.’’