SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Hampden County health officials are warning people who live in 'high' risk communities for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE, to protect themselves against the mosquito-borne illness.

These are the communities the state has elevated to 'high' risk after a Hampden County woman in her 70s tested positive for the virus.

WMass EEE map 092719

Map provided by Mass. DPH

Already, one man from Springfield has died from the virus.

With these recent cases in mind, local athletic directors have the herculean task of moving all games and practices to avoid dusk when mosquitoes are more active.

Many area high schools are cancelling or changing any games that would have gone on past 6 p.m. to make sure people are in a position to get home before dusk.

"If they haven't been listening to us before, now I hope they do now," said West Springfield director of public health Jeanne Galloway.

Galloway said that upon learning the town's EEE risk had been elevated to 'high', one of her first calls was to the school system, which promptly moved their evening football game to 4 p.m. She doesn't want anyone to take their chances.

"It's been diagnosed near you - okay so it's not me - but it somewhere right next-door," Galloway noted.

Dave Stratton, Agawam's director of athletics, added, "It's never been this systemic across Hampden County."

Stratton told Western Mass News in ten years on the job, he's never had to adjust the sheer volume of games that he has in the last several hours.

"Roughly three to four games a day. I believe I had about a dozen home contests in the five days next week that we had to adjust." Stratton said.

One of Agawam's home games has moved to Northampton and, in addition to the loss of morale, Stratton said moving home contests can cause any athletic programs financial stress.

"To gain those gate receipts and also the funds that come in for maybe a concession stand or apparel sales things like that, those are things that, as athletic directors in the PVIAC, see many of us count on that income as part of our budget," Stratton added.

The Agawam Soccer Association, for younger players, made a similar move, and said: "Due to the recent notifications from the town of Agawam, ASA will be cancelling all events that do not end by 6:00 p.m. indefinitely."

Those same health officials are hoping people will become more active in protecting themselves against the potentially deadly disease.

"We haven't gotten a lot of calls from the general public. I've gotten a few, so I would think that maybe more would be better," Galloway said.

Copyright 2019 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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