Michigan health officials confirm 5th human EEE death

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Death was confirmed in Cass County, and another horse has been diagnosed, state officials said.

A fifth Michigan resident has died from Eastern Equine Encephalitis, state health officials said Monday.

The death was confirmed in a Cass County resident, and an additional horse, in Allegan County, has been diagnosed with the disease, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

 Although frost is predicted in parts of the state tonight, the department urged residents to continue taking precautions against the mosquito-borne disease.

“The risk of EEE continues if there has not been a sustained period of freezing temperatures,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS.

People can be infected with EEE from the bite of a mosquito carrying the virus. It is considered among the most dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in the United States, with a 33% fatality rate in people who become ill, and leaving many survivors with physical and mental disabilities, health officials said.

So far, EEE has been confirmed in 10 people. The residents lived in Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

EEE has also been confirmed in 40 animals from 16 counties: Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Livingston, Montcalm, Newaygo, St. Joseph, Tuscola and Van Buren.

To stop the spread of the virus, aerial spraying covering more than 557,000 acres targeting 14 counties started Sept. 30 and was completed Oct. 7, according to the state.

The latest animal case confirmed in Allegan County showed symptoms of the disease on Oct. 1, state health officials said. Parts of the county were treated on Oct. 3 and Oct. 6. 

The Cass County person who died had an onset of symptoms before Sept. 30, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state health department.

Mosquitoes that spread EEE were caught in traps set Oct. 1 in southwest Michigan, while trapping performed in Calhoun County after the aerial treatment found none, the health department reported.

Mosquito trapping is ongoing, and "there are no plans to resume aerial treatment at this time," Sutfin told The Detroit News late Monday.

Tips to protect against the virus:

• Avoid being outdoors from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes that carry the EEE virus are most active.

• Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered product to exposed skin or clothing

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors, and apply insect repellent 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, tires or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs. 

• Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas. 

For information, go to Michigan.gov/EEE.