Rare Mosquito-Borne Disease Posing Threat In Michigan
September 2, 2019
State health officials say mosquito-borne diseases continue to be a threat and are urging residents to take precautions.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says four cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis are under investigation in residents from Kalamazoo and Berrien Counties - one juvenile and three adults. A case of California encephalitis virus is suspected in a Genesee County resident. Six cases of EEE were confirmed in horses, and all of the animals died as they were not vaccinated. EEE can cause neurological illness in horses and there is a vaccine available for horses but not humans. Two deer in Berrien and Cass Counties have also been diagnosed. MDHHS Spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin tells WHMI Eastern Equine Encephalitis is a disease that is typically seen in horses and not unusual as there is actually a vaccine for horses available, but not for people. Sutfin says for people, EEE is 33% fatal for those who become ill but for horses, the disease is 90% fatal if they become ill. She says EEE has a greater impact on horses but it is one of the most dangerous mosquito borne diseases in the United States and people can die from it or have some lifelong disabilities if they become ill, so they want people to be aware and take precautions.
Southwestern Michigan has experienced outbreaks of the disease in people and horses in the past, with the most recent outbreaks occurring in the early 1980s, mid-1990s and 2010. Health officials say these are the first human cases reported in Michigan since 2016, when three people were infected.
Meanwhile, West Nile Virus activity is increasing in wildlife and mosquito populations throughout the state although no human cases have been reported. Sutfin noted they’ve had 18 positive mosquito pools and eight infected birds all in the Lower Peninsula. She says they know both diseases are present in Michigan so they want people to be aware and take precautions. She says they want people to be outside enjoying Michigan and all it has to offer but take precautions. That means using mosquito repellent containing DEET or another FDA approved product on either clothing or skin and wear long sleeve shirts and long pants when outdoors. At home, Sutfin says make sure windows and door screens are in good repair so mosquitoes are staying outside and not coming in. She also suggests walking around your property once or twice a week to empty any standing water, as its prime mosquito breeding ground.
In Livingston County, Medical Director Dr. Donald Lawrenchuk echoed those thoughts. He told WHMI “While we haven’t identified EEE or West Nile positive mosquitoes in Livingston County, the risk is still there. We want to encourage residents to continue taking steps to prevent against mosquito bites by avoiding being outside at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, taking precautions like wearing bug spray with DEET along with long sleeves and pants, and by maintaining their home and yard by checking screens for holes and dumping standing water from items like buckets, tires, and other objects that hold water.”
Additionally, Sutfin noted the state issues a weekly report that contains information about where positive mosquitoes were found and what they had to help people understand if anything is present in their community or if there is any cause for concern. Those interested in tracking their county can visit the link provided. (JM)