In the wake of what’s being called the worst Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) outbreak in more than a decade, health officials are urging residents across Michigan to stay indoors during dusk – a time when mosquitoes that carry the deadly virus are most likely to feed. And as school districts around the state take extra precautions to protect the young, by changing, and even rescheduling, practice and game times, to help avoid exposure, parents and the elderly alike are being told to take the warning seriously, until the first hard frost.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus, or EEEV as it’s commonly called, is a rare disease that is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. It cannot be spread directly from person to person. The virus is one of a group of mosquito-transmitted viruses that can cause inflammation of the brain – or encephalitis.
In the United States, approximately five to 10 EEE cases are reported annually. But this year, in Michigan alone, the virus has infected seven people in the following eight counties: Kalamazoo, Cass, Van Buren, Berrien, Barry, St. Joseph, Genesee and Lapeer.
The severity of the sickness is what is most concerning. A third of those who contract the EEE virus will die. Persons over age 50 and under age 15 seem to be at greatest risk for developing severe disease when infected with EEEV. The CDC reports, overall, only about 4-5% of human EEEV infections result in EEE, but it’s still important to take the risk seriously.
“This is a virus with no definitive treatment,” says Michigan Primary Care Partners Internal Medicine physician Rashmi Juneja, MD. “The time from infected mosquito bite to onset of illness ranges from 4 to 10 days. If you suspect someone you know is suffering from the condition, contact your healthcare provider right away, so they can be tested, and put on IV fluids and offered respiratory support, to prevent other infections.”
So what symptoms should you look for? “Patients with EEE usually present with nausea, vomiting and headaches,” said Dr. Juneja. “In some children the central nervous system is infected, causing them to suffer seizures and focal neurological signs. Once a child develops encephalitis their clinical condition can deteriorate significantly.”
Health officials recommend the following to minimize your risk:
- Stay indoors after dusk and around dawn.
- Use EPA registered insect repellents – like those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin and/orclothing. The repellent/insecticide permethrin can be used on clothing to protect through several washes. Always follow the directions on the package.
- Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old. Instead, dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, and cover strollers and baby carriers with mosquito netting.
- Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children under 3 years old.
- Do not apply insect repellent to a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, cuts, or irritated skin. Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
- Wear long sleeves and pants when weather permits.
- Have secure screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets, barrels and other containers. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used.