Michigan expands aerial treatment for mosquito-borne EEE virus

The Detroit News

Michigan health officials on Thursday announced the expansion of areas for aerial treatment after six new cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in horses were confirmed in the state.

The case total now stands at 28 in 11 counties, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement. Livingston County was added to the list of counties, joining Barry, Clare, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo and Oakland.

Mosquitoes can carry Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a rare and deadly illness.

There is one suspected case of EEE in a Barry County resident, according to the release.

The potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus affects both humans and animals.

“These additional cases of EEE in horses underscores the importance of providing aerial treatment in the affected counties,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for the state health department.

“There is an ongoing threat to the health and safety of Michiganders as we know mosquitoes are carrying this potentially deadly disease in these areas. Last year, 10 families were devastated by this disease and we are trying to protect others from being infected.”

The new EEE cases expand or add treatment blocks in Ionia, Jackson, Kent, Livingston and Montcalm counties, the health department said.

Aerial treatment is conducted using specialized aircraft beginning in the early evening and continuing through dawn. Aerial treatment conducted Wednesday covered more than 157,000 acres.

A second night of aerial treatment was scheduled Thursday for Block 5-1 in Kent County; Block 6-1 in Newaygo, Oceana and Muskegon counties and 6-2 in Newaygo County; Block 7-1 in Mecosta County; and Block 10-1 in Ionia County, state officials said.

To reduce the risk of infection, state health officials are asking local leaders in the affected counties to consider postponing, rescheduling or canceling outdoor activities at or after dusk. "To protect the public health, the recommendation is being made out of an abundance of caution, and applies until the first hard frost of the year," the health department said.

EEE is one of the most dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in the United States, with a 33% fatality rate in people who become ill. Those younger than 15 and over age 50 are at greatest risk of severe disease following infection.

In 2019, there were 10 human cases of EEE in Michigan, which equaled the total number of cases in the previous 10 years. Six people died.

There is an EEE vaccine available for horses, but not for people.

Horse owners are not required to vaccinate their animals for EEE, but "with consecutive years of widespread infection ... vaccinations should be a routine part of their animals’ veterinary care," State Veterinarian Nora Wineland said. “Like other diseases — especially mosquito-borne diseases that affect both animals and humans — a multi-pronged approach is needed.

"Addressing mosquitoes, protecting people, and safeguarding animals are all key and require coordinated actions by animal owners, veterinarians, homeowners, parents, and state and local government.”

For information, visit Michigan.gov/EEE.