Summer camp’s mosquito worry is increased by Triple-E threat

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Itchy mosquito bites are as much a summer camp tradition as evening campfires. But this year, Triple E has camp directors struggling to get rid of one while preserving the other.

Mosquito borne illnesses like Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus are changing the way summer camps operate and sending camp directors scurrying for advice on how to protect their young charges.

“It’s kind of scary to think of camp changing and not being outside,” said Chris Conlon, who runs the 4-H camps at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown and the Barry Conservation Center outside Berlin.

For now, he’ll preserve the campfire tradition but urge his counselors to be vigilant in getting campers to use bug spray and put on long pants and long sleeves before they gather round the fire.

Triple E can cause sudden high fever, seizures and coma. About one-third of patients die. Last year, seven people became ill with Triple E in New Hampshire and two people died.

Like many New Hampshire camp directors, Conlon has investigated options for killing off mosquitoes on camp property, considered indoor activities for certain times of day, like dusk, when mosquitoes are most active and researched how best to protect youngsters.

Of the camps contacted for this story, none were spraying for mosquitoes. Camp directors said they will focus instead on teaching kids to protect themselves.

“The risks of spraying outweigh the risks of Triple E,” Ed Orlowski, director of Camp Spaulding in Concord, concluded. He said he’d rather keep campers in a chemical-free environment.

At Camp Coniston in Grantham, using insecticides to eliminate mosquitoes from the 150-acre Lake Coniston is just unrealistic, director John Tilley said. Better to keep the cabin screens in good repair and urge campers to bring plenty of bug repellent, he said.

One of the experts camp directors are consulting is Alan Eaton, an entomologist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

“The greatest risks associated with acquiring encephalitis are things that you control,” he said. The danger is that kids feel invulnerable.

That means many camp directors are focusing on training their counselors to remind children to protect themselves from mosquitoes. Breaks from activity to get a drink and apply sunscreen will be expanded to include applying bug repellent.

Judicious use of bug spray, appropriate clothing and caution at certain times of day provide the most protection, Eaton said. Camp directors like homeowners also can eliminate some breeding opportunities for mosquitoes by fixing clogged gutters, draining bird baths and rain barrels, he added.

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