Saturday, May 25, 2013
Kennebec Journal Staff
Though both Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus have been found in the small York County community of Lebanon, most residents are taking the threat of the diseases in stride.
The state's first confirmed cases of EEE caused the deaths of 30 ringneck pheasants last Thursday on an undisclosed farm in Lebanon. State health officials informed the town's selectmen Friday, and they alerted residents Monday.
The arrival of the virus "sounds alarming to people," said Maine State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears. "We have a lot of mosquitoes in Maine in September. Everyone should be aware, but it is not time to be afraid."
"All you can do is hope for the best," said Dave Page, who with his wife, Betty, has lived Lebanon for nearly a half-century. "I've worried about it for years," he said Tuesday afternoon, as he tended to the lush rows of his wife's flower beds of zinnias, dahlias and sunflowers. She was busy out back, working rows and rows of bush beans.
"I've been worried about (the virus) for years," Page confided. A neighbor lost a horse to EEE several years ago, he said, and the husband of "a real nice young couple" in town had been diagnosed with an insect-borne disease that caused neurological damage from which he has continued to suffer for two years.
"It's sad, the way things are going," Page said of the pheasants' deaths from EEE and positive West Nile findings in mosquito surveillance pools from Lebanon to Gorham and Standish, farther north. "Every day is a challenge."
All the same, he said, he and his wife think they "live in the most beautiful place in the world. We have been so blessed."
Page -- like many other residents in Lebanon -- wasn't just putting a good face on things. Despite the recent alarming reports about the two viruses hitting so close to home, Page is philosophical, and hopeful. He was out gardening, wearing a big straw hat for sun protection but not so much as a speck of insect repellent on him.
"Mosquitoes?" he shrugged. "We have tons of butterflies and dragonflies ... and a couple of bats." He's convinced they'll do the trick.
Both Page and his wife admitted that they were disturbed to hear this week's EEE report. They've found a couple of finches dead on their property this summer, and the juxtaposition of the pheasants and finches for them was disquieting.
Birds -- particularly game birds, such as the infected pheasants in Lebanon -- are "highly susceptible" to the viruses, Sears said.
The birds can suffer fatal infection "because they're so close to each other" in cages "and they can transmit to each other through pecking (order) behavior" that may result in small cuts or scratches. Blood carries the viral infections.
"We know it's in the birds," Sears said. The recent EEE infections had shown up in the same area where West Nile had been found earlier in August, Sears sad.
However, nothing could put a damper on the glorious afternoon Tuesday -- sunny and cool, with a light wind -- all of which lent a distinctly "Anne of Green Gables" look to the rows and rows of vibrant flowers, cabbages and pumpkins thriving amid evergreen bushes out front of the Page house. The couple had set up a small roadside stand, where Betty was selling the first corn of the season, two ears for $1.
Nearby, Garrett Paulino, 22, and Justin Fitton, 21, both of Lebanon, were out jogging "a couple of miles" for some exercise, they chimed together. Fitton said he was "somewhat concerned" about reports of EEE, but Paulino shrugged off the threat. Neither had used insect repellent before leaving home; being on the move was going to have to be enough.
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