11 counties at ‘high risk’ for deadly mosquito-borne virus

At least three dead from Eastern equine encephalitis in Michigan

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published September 24, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Health officials are reminding people to protect themselves from mosquito bites this fall after seeing an increase in Eastern equine encephalitis, a rare and deadly virus spread by mosquitoes.

At press time, eight cases of the mosquito-borne illness — including three deaths — were  confirmed in people living in Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties. The three people who died were reportedly all adults, according to health officials. The virus also was found in 21 animals across the state.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is warning residents that 11 counties are now at “high risk” for EEE: Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lapeer, Montcalm, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties.

“The increasing geographic spread and increasing number of EEE cases in humans and animals indicate that the risk for EEE is ongoing,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said in a statement. “We continue to urge Michiganders to protect themselves against mosquito bites until the first hard frost.”

Health officials encourage those in high-risk counties to consider postponing, rescheduling or canceling outdoor activities occurring at or after dusk, particularly activities that involve children, until the first hard frost of the year.

Health officials say EEE, a rare cause of brain infections, is one of the most dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in the United States, with a 33% fatality rate in people who become ill.

“We have concerns in how severe it can become,” said Kathy Forzley, the director of the Oakland County Health and Human Services Department.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of EEE typically appear four to 10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The infection can be either systemic or encephalitic, which is characterized by swelling of the brain.

“Some people experience no symptoms whatsoever — they won’t even know if they have become infected with EEE virus because they have no apparent illness. Some people will have mild symptoms, sort of like having a mild flu … and about 4%-5% of people will develop severe symptoms and have serious illness,” Forzley explained.

Those who develop a systemic infection notice a sudden onset of symptoms — including chills, fever, and body and joint aches — that last up to two weeks. After a few days of systemic illness, those with EEE may also develop an encephalitic infection, resulting in headache, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis. Permanent brain damage, coma and death may occur in some cases, according to health officials, who said those under age 15 and those over 50 are at greatest risk of severe disease following infection.

While some people who contract EEE do not have symptoms at all, health officials say many EEE survivors have ongoing neurological problems. They encourage anyone experiencing symptoms to visit their physician’s office.

Although no cases of EEE had been reported in Oakland County at press time, health officials said five mosquito pools and a blood donor tested positive for West Nile virus.

The only way to protect yourself from mosquito-borne viruses, like EEE and West Nile virus, is to avoid being bitten.

Health officials say to:
• Use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol as the active ingredient.

• Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and shoes.

• Limit outdoor activities from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

• Keep mosquitoes out of your home by repairing any holes in window and door screens.

• Empty standing water from mosquito breeding sites, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools and old tires, where mosquitoes may lay eggs.

• Use nets and fans over outdoor eating areas.

For more information about mosquito-borne diseases, visit michigan.gov/emergingdiseases or www.oakgov.com/health, or call the nurse on call at (800) 848-5533 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.