Eastern Equine Encephalitis cases confirmed in 12 Michigan counties — here’s how to avoid it

Emily Morris, WXOU News Director

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Lackadaisical buzzing and itchy bug bites are a calling card of mosquitoes during a damp fall season. This can be a nuisance, but most Michiganders are not accustomed to seeing the pint-sized pests as deadly — until now.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has confirmed the spread of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) by mosquitoes in 12 counties in Michigan: Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lapeer, Montcalm, Newyago, St. Joseph and Van Buren. The deadly disease is on the rise as weather remains warm and rainfall draws mosquito populations.

“The increasing geographic spread and increasing number of EEE cases in humans and animals indicate that the risk of EEE is ongoing,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health.

Mosquitoes become infected after biting an infected bird. The mosquito is then able to pass along the disease to any mammal it bites, according to the New York Health Department. EEE is only contractible through mosquito bites, and any infected person or animal is not contagious.

“Long sleeves and the use of insect repellant will go a long way toward being bitten by mosquitoes that carry the EEE virus, [and] only a small number of cases have been reported in humans,” said Dr. Scott Tiegs, associate professor of biology at Oakland University.

For anyone with current concerns, though, symptoms of EEE can be quite lucrative, including high fever, headache, tiredness, nausea or neck stiffness. Sometimes, there are no symptoms at all, so being cautious of all mosquitoes is necessary. The effects of EEE also include possible permanent brain damage and a 33% death rate.

The MDHHS has suggested several precautions, that can be taken to safely enjoy outdoor activities this fall:

  • Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved products to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellant 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.

Fall is notorious for involving outdoor excursions — campfires, apple picking, hiking, hayrides and corn mazes, to name a few — so the MDHHS is encouraging officials to “consider postponing, rescheduling, canceling and/or relocating outdoor activities that occur at or after dusk.” Mosquitoes become more active in the evening hours. This suggestion will remain until the first frost, when mosquito activity should conclude for the season.

“As temperatures continue to cool, insect abundances will decline, including those of mosquitoes,” Tiegs said. “We’ll have to wait and see if there are new cases in the spring and summer of 2020.”

Although fall pastimes may look a bit different this year, any changes are in hopes of keeping everyone safe. For further information on EEE in Michigan, MDHHS recommends visiting michigan.gov/emerging.