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Rare mosquito-borne virus suspected in Michigan; 10 counties urged to cancel outdoor events after dark

DETROIT – A Michigan adult is suspected of having the rare and dangerous equine encephalitis of the mosquito-borne virus, health officials announced Tuesday.

Suspicions of deadly mosquito-borne viruses require the cancellation of outdoor events



The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services now urges people in 10 Michigan counties – Barry, Clare, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo and Oakland – to cancel or postpone outdoor events that take place at dusk or after preventing more people from contracting the virus, which is spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. The adult suspected of having the virus is from Barry County.

Also known as Triple E, the virus is one of the deadliest mosquito-borne diseases in the United States, with a 33% death rate in people who get sick. It leaves many survivors with physical and mental disabilities. Kills 90% of horses infected with the virus. So far this year, 22 horses in the 10 counties that have been asked to cancel outdoor events have had confirmed cases of the virus.

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“MDHHS continues to encourage local officials in affected counties to consider postponing, rescheduling, or canceling outdoor activities that take place at or after sunset, especially those involving children, to reduce the risk that people are bitten by mosquitoes, “said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy for Health at MDHHS, in a statement.

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If the suspected human case were confirmed through lab tests later this week, it would be the first person with EEE this year in Michigan.

Last year, EEE infected 38 people in the United States, more than in any previous year since it was monitored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a typical year, there are seven cases nationwide.

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Children under 15, adults over 50 at greater risk

In Michigan alone in 2019, six people died and four more were hospitalized. Three of the four survivors of EEE infections in the state “have severe neurological problems and continue to receive supportive care, both in rehabilitation and at home with home care,” said Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human. Services, in a previous interview with the Free Press.

Signs of EEE infection include sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle and joint pain that can progress to severe encephalitis, resulting in headache, disorientation, tremors, seizures, and paralysis.

Children under the age of 15 and people over the age of 50 are most at risk of developing serious illnesses due to the EEE virus. There is no vaccine for EEE, no treatment and no cure. Doctors can only offer supportive therapy to help patients breathe, drink and feed, and prevent other infections.

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Anyone who thinks they have these symptoms should seek medical attention. Permanent brain damage, coma and death can also occur in some cases.

MDHHS announced earlier this week that it would begin spraying pesticides in the 10 counties where EEE cases in horses have been identified to control mosquitoes and reduce the risk of infection.

“This suspected case of EEE in a Michigan resident shows that this is a continuing threat to the health and safety of Michiganders and requires ongoing action to prevent exposure, including air treatment,” Khaldun said.

Spraying is expected to begin Wednesday in the 10 affected counties, and state health officials say more areas of the state could be treated if additional human or animal cases are identified.

The aerial treatment will be conducted by Clarke of St. Charles, Illinois, using specialized aircraft, starting in the early evening and continuing until the following dawn. The treatment will be conducted using Merus 3.0, the same product used in 2019 in Michigan to treat 557,000 acres. Merus 3.0 is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development, and is labeled for public health use on residential areas.

To avoid EEE, health officials suggest following these steps:

  • Use insect repellents containing DEET or other products approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency on exposed skin or clothing, following the manufacturer’s directions for use.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to prevent bites.
  • Shield doors and windows to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Drain water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused baby pools, old tires, or similar sites where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.
  • Use nets and / or fans on outdoor dining areas.

Follow journalist Kristen Jordan Shamus on Twitter: @KristenShamus

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This article originally appeared in Detroit Free Press: Rare Mosquito-Transmitted Virus Suspected in Michigan; 10 counties urged to cancel outdoor events after dark

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