KALAMAZOO, MI — State health officials have reached out to counties affected by the recent outbreak of deadly mosquito-borne virus Eastern equine encephalitis with an option to spray pesticides in an attempt to stop its spread.
Usually mosquito control is done at a local level, but because of the spread of the virus over numerous counties the state has decided to step in, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said.
In total, 11 counties have reported animals or humans who have been infected by the mosquito-borne virus, according to MDHHS. Eight human cases are confirmed and three people in Michigan have died from the virus. The fatalities occurred in in Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties, according to state data.
State health officials called this the “worst outbreak” in more than a decade.
Discussions between the state and county health departments are ongoing, Sutfin said. Decisions about where, when and how the aerial spraying would happen have not been finalized.
If and when aerial spraying occurs, residents will have several days notice and information about any suggested precautions, she said.
Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department has not made a final decision if it will opt-in, health officer Jim Rutherford said.
On Tuesday, Sept. 17, state health officials warned the public to avoid outdoor activities at dusk and encouraged local leaders in eight counties to postpone any outdoor events.
“The severity of triple E and the health effects that is has on Michiganders is also a factor in this,” Sutfin said.
Only 4-5% of people will be become sick when infected with the virus, according to MDHHS. Less than 1% of people who are infected will develop a serious neurological illness that causes inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues, according to MDDHS.
About 30% of people who develop neurological infection due to EEE will die, according to MDDHS.
The virus has been found in 23 different animals across 11 Michigan counties, according to state data.
Of the six counties that have confirmed human cases — Barry, Calhoun, Cass, Van Buren, Berrien and Kalamazoo counties — Kalamazoo County has reported the most with three cases.
Kalamazoo County Commissioner Mike Quinn, a Democrat representing District 10, said he opposes the idea of spraying pesticides.
“The primary concern is that I think spreading poison in general is a bad option for pest control because of the collateral damage for all creatures,” he said. “Not only insects but also the creatures that prey on insects.”
County commissioners will likely not weigh in on the final decision, but Quinn said as a public servant he would be open to hearing more information about the effectiveness of spraying. Until then, he said, he does not support it.
“I’m aware that mosquitoes can transplant deadly diseases, I, myself, had malaria twice while serving in the Peace Corps,” he said. “But the number of human cases reported in Kalamazoo County is really small and I can’t see the justification for it at this time.”
In addition to avoiding outdoor activity, particularly after dusk and before dawn, state and local health officials are also giving residents in the affected areas advice on how they can minimize their chance of contracting the virus.
State health officials advise people to use insect repellent with DEET, wear long sleeves and pants, be sure windows and screens are secure and empty any standing water from places like flower pots, buckets, barrels and tires.
People who engage in outdoor work and recreational activities in areas where the virus is found are at increased risk of infection. Those over 50 and under 15 appear to be at the greatest risk for developing severe disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.