It’s easy to blame 2020 for a new health concern, given what it’s thrown at us already. Now, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services has warned Michigan residents about a rare mosquito-borne illness called eastern equine encephalitis. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain.

The state DHHS issued a statement on September 15, alerting residents that preliminary blood tests indicate a Barry County resident may have EEE. The physicians are waiting for results of more blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.

There are no other reports of human infection, but there are also 22 confirmed EEE cases among horses in 10 counties. The virus is not transmitted from person to person, nor from horse to person. It is spread only by infected mosquitoes.

Rare but Serious

Eastern equine encephalitis is rare, but it is very serious. According to the DHHS, “EEE is one of the most dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in the United States, with a 33 percent fatality rate in people who become ill and a 90 percent fatality rate in horses that become ill. People can be infected with EEE and other mosquito-borne diseases from the bite of a mosquito carrying the viruses.” Survivors may continue to have ongoing neurological problems.

Not everyone who is infected shows symptoms, but the most common ones early ones include mild fever, and muscle and joint aches. If the infection is severe, it could cause:

  • Sudden onset of fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Diagnosing and Treating EEE

It can take between 4 and 10 days after a bite from an infected mosquito before symptoms appear. Physicians diagnose EEE through blood tests and by testing cerebrospinal fluid obtained through a spinal tap.

Since EEE is a virus, antibiotics cannot treat the infection and there is no antiviral medication yet. Treatment is based on treating symptoms, like lowering fever, providing fluids through intravenous (IV), and if needed, placing patients on a ventilator to help them breathe.

Reduce Your Risk

Since the only way to contract this virus is through a mosquito bite, any efforts to reduce bites will lower your risk of infection. The CDC and Michigan’s DHHS recommend:

  • Using an approved insect repellant on exposed skin and clothing. The products should include DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, and socks whenever possible.
  • Keep mosquitoes out of your home by ensuring screens are in good repair.
  • Remove any locations where mosquitoes may breed. Any object that can hold stagnant water, such as barrels, wading pools, even tire swings, should be cleared or eliminated.
  • Use netting and/or fans over outdoor eating areas

These precautions will also help reduce the risk of contracting West Nile virus, another mosquito-borne illness.

The state is working on combating the infection with aerial treatments in high risk zones. For people who live in Michigan, click here to see the treatment zones in your county.

EEE Is Not a New Virus

While this alert is for Michigan, the virus can, and does, occur elsewhere in the United States. According to the CDC, there were 3 cases in Massachusetts and 2 in Wisconsin earlier this year.

According to an article on CNN, there has been a rise in EEE infections since last year. By September 2019, there had been 30 reported cases in the U.S., 11 of whom died. The infections were in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Michigan, New Jersey and North Carolina.

The best advice to avoid infection is to stay vigilant, wherever you are, and to try to prevent mosquito bites. If you do have a bite and you do become ill within days, seek medical help as quickly as possible.