OTSEGO, Mich. (WOOD) — An Allegan County man still recovering from Eastern Equine Encephalitis hopes his experience can serve as a warning after two other cases and one death related to the virus were confirmed in southwest Michigan.
Richard Force and his wife Kelly spoke to News 8 in October after learning the chef contracted EEE from a mosquito bite.
He’s still learning to walk again and can sometimes struggle to find his words, but it’s a long way from being confined to a wheelchair after the diagnosis.
“I have my good days and my bad days, but for the most part, you know, I’m walking,” Force told News 8 Tuesday.
The Otsego residents have monitored the recent cases of EEE — one of which in Kalamazoo County proved fatal — through news reports. Force’s was the only case in 2018, so seeing a death and additional cases this year is worrisome.
“It’s not just here in this state. It’s other states now that are having cases, too, and … innocent people do not need to be dying from a mosquito bite. It is just to me wrong,” Kelly Force said.
Rhode Island and Massachusetts have also each reported one EEE-related death in recent weeks.
EEE, like West Nile virus, is transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says that about 1 in 150 West Nile patients will develop a serious neurological illness and about 1 in 10 of those more serious cases result in death. About a third of people who contract EEE and develop a neurological illness will die.
But Michigan is still more likely to see a West Nile death than one from EEE because there are more West Nile cases, MDHHS said.
West Nile is more dangerous for people 60 and older, the state says, while severe cases of EEE are typically seen in children under 15 and adults over 50.
“Whether they come up with a vaccination for humans or they come up with something that can counteract it once they find out what it is, don’t wait until it becomes an epidemic,” Kelly Force said.
She wants to see health officials and municipalities examine ways to be proactive against the rare diagnosis.
Health officials have reminded people to take action to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors at dusk and dawn (when mosquitoes may be more active) and making sure screens are tightly fitted so mosquitoes don’t get into your home.