A dangerous and often deadly version of mosquito-borne encephalitis that has flared across a number of states including Michigan this summer is already present in Wisconsin, according to state officials.
Known as Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, the virus has infected people in Michigan, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. At least five people have died after contracting the infection.
In an average year, there are only seven cases of EEE in the entire country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But this year, Michigan and Massachusetts each have at least that many cases under investigation.
Three Michigan residents have died from the rare virus and four others have been sickened by the disease, state health officials there said Tuesday, amid that state’s biggest outbreak of EEE in more than a decade. The three people who died were all adults.
In Massachusetts, eight human cases of EEE have been confirmed this year. One person has died, according to the Boston Globe. In Rhode Island, three cases have been confirmed, with one death, according to the Globe.
In early August, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed that a horse in Barron County tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis, Wisconsin’s first confirmed EEE case this year.
“While no human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis have been reported in Wisconsin this year, it’s important for people to remain vigilant in their efforts to avoid mosquito bites to prevent not only EEE, but West Nile virus, and other mosquito-borne illnesses,” according to a statement from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “Presence of an EEE positive horse confirms that there are mosquitoes in the area infected with the EEE virus that can spread the virus to people and other animals.”
The 22-year-old quarter horse mare from Barron County was euthanized after showing symptoms and tests confirmed EEE. Barron County is in northwest Wisconsin.
Mosquitoes acquire the EEE virus by feeding on infected birds, according to the Wisconsin DHS. The virus is not spread person to person or directly between animals or between animals and humans.
The virus is found mostly in the eastern United States and in the Great Lakes region. Infections tend to occur near freshwater hardwood swamps, according to the CDC.
The EEE virus is a rare cause of brain infections (encephalitis), according to the CDC. EEE is one of the most deadly mosquito-borne viruses in the U.S. Many survivors have ongoing neurologic problems.
The only way to prevent it is to avoid mosquito bites. There is a vaccine for horses but none have been approved for humans.
How to protect yourself:
- Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered product 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 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, old tires or similar places where mosquitoes may lay eggs.
- Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.
Symptoms of EEE include:
- Sudden onset of fever, chills.
- Body and joint aches which can progress to a severe encephalitis.
The Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, contributed to this report. Contact Joe Taschler at (414) 224-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTaschler or Facebook at facebook.com/joe.taschler.1.