Death In Michigan From Mosquito-Borne EEE Virus, Health Officials Say

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KALAMAZOO (WWJ) - A Michigan resident who was diagnosed with eastern equine encephalitis, one of the most dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in the U.S., has died.

In announcing the death in Kalamazoo County on Friday, the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services urged residents to protect themselves against mosquito bites.

Eastern equine encephalitis -- also known as Triple E or EEE -- is a rare but serious mosquito-borne virus that has a 33-percent fatality rate in humans and a 90-percent fatality rate in horses. People can become infected with the EEE virus from the bite of a mosquito carrying the virus. 

“We strongly encourage residents to take precautions such as using insect repellent with DEET, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors during the peak mosquito-biting hours which are dusk and dawn.” said James Rutherford, Health Officer of Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department.

To date there are three confirmed human cases in Michigan: two in Kalamazoo County and one in Berrien County, including the fatality. There are two additional suspected human cases in Michigan: one in Kalamazoo County and one in Berrien County, and two more cases in Kalamazoo County that are still under investigation.

Health officials have not released a name, age or any other details about the person who died. 

Meanwhile, the mother of Savanah Dehart, a 14-year-old Kalamazoo-area girl who was hospitalized with EEE, posted on Facebook Friday night that her daughter "is still fighting." 

"I just want everyone to know that this case IS NOT Savanah," the mom wrote, adding: "My family's thoughts and prayers are wholeheartedly with the family that this happened to. Please do us a favor and keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well."

The risk for contracting EEE throughout Kalamazoo County is considered widespread and all residents should take actions to prevent mosquito bites until the first hard frost of the year, the health department said. 

The best way to prevent EEE or any other mosquito-borne illness is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Avoid outdoor activities from dusk until dawn. If outdoor activities are necessary please take the following precautions:

  • Using EPA registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients:  DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol, and 2-undecanone; follow the product label instructions and reapply as directed.
    • Don’t use repellent on children under 2 months old. Instead dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs and cover crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Wearing shoes and socks, light-colored long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors.
  • Making sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or other openings.
  • Using bed nets when sleeping outdoors or in conditions with no window screens.
  • Eliminating all sources of standing water that can support mosquito breeding around your home, including water in bird baths, abandoned swimming pools, wading pools, old tires and any other object holding water once a week.
  • Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas

Early symptoms of EEE include the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, body and joint aches. Symptoms usually appear 4-10 days after exposure. EEE can develop into severe encephalitis (brain swelling), resulting in headache, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis. Permanent brain damage, coma and death may also occur in some cases. 

Learn more about eastern equine encephalitis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) AT THIS LINK