Eastern Equine Encephalitis spreads to Genesee County

GENESEE COUNTY — State and local health officials are warning residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites, following a confirmed case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in Genesee County.

As stated by the Genesee County Health Department, a deer in Genesee County tested positive for the mosquito borne EEE virus last week and was euthanized due to the severity of the disease symptoms. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has also confirmed that a horse in Lapeer County was euthanized after showing signs of EEE.

While no human cases of EEE have been reported in Genesee County, the disease has been responsible for sickening eight people on the west side of the state—including three cases that were fatal. Altogether, human cases of EEE have been reported in the following West Michigan counties: Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren.

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

EEE is one of the most dangerous mosquito-borne viruses, posing a 33 percent fatality rate among humans who become infected with it. Signs of EEE include the sudden onset of fever, chills, body and joint aches. The disease can also develop into severe encephalitis, resulting in headache, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis. In some cases, permanent brain damage, coma and death may also occur.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit a health care provider or an emergency room immediately.

Although EEE can affect anyone, people younger than age 15 and over age 50 are at the greatest risk of severe illness following infection. The disease also poses a threat to horses, but vaccines are available that will protect them from EEE and West Nile virus.

In light of the recent EEE report, the Genesee County Health Department is urging residents to follow these steps to avoid mosquito bites, especially prior to engaging in outdoor activities at or after dusk:

Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.

Children under two months old should not use repellent but rather be covered in clothing that covers arms and legs; strollers and baby carriers should be covered with mosquito netting.

Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Also apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites.

Maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside.

Empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs.

Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

The MDHHS is also encouraging local officials in all counties affected by EEE to consider postponing, rescheduling or cancelling outdoor activities occurring at or after dusk, particularly activities that involve children. This would include events such as late evening sports practices, games or outdoor music practices.

Aside from EEE, other mosquitoborne disease cases have been reported in Genesee County this year, including one human West Nile Virus report and one California Group virus case. Symptoms of West Nile Virus are similar to EEE, while the California Group virus symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and lethargy.

According to Danielle Lederer, an epidemiologist with the Genesee County Health Department, there hasn’t been a confirmed human case of EEE in the county since 2001.

Further information about mosquito-borne diseases is available at Michigan.gov/emergingdiseases and on the Genesee County Health Department website at www.gchd.us. Contact your local veterinarian for information regarding vaccinations for horses.