Barry County man may be first human EEE case of 2020

Barry County

HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — Health officials are investigating a suspected case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in a man from Barry County.

The man’s wife told News 8 that he was hospitalized at Spectrum Health but has since been moved to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

She said a test run by Mayo Clinic already found he had EEE. The state is now conducting its own laboratory test to confirm the diagnosis. That test should be back by the end of the week.

If it is confirmed, it will be Michigan’s first human case of EEE in 2020.

Tina Wescott says her husband, Jeff Wescott, was suffering from intense headaches, which later progressed into speech difficulties.

“He went from being this healthy adult one week and in a 10-day span…. he couldn’t even walk unassisted. He was so weak. It really completely wiped him out. He’s lucky to be alive,” Tina Wescott said.

She wants the community to know just how serious the virus can be.

“It’s really bad. I didn’t think he was going to make it. I really didn’t think he was going to make it — that first night. I saw things I never want to see again. It was horrifying just struggling to breathe,” Wescott said.

The family is encouraged by the progress but knows there are a lot of challenges ahead.

“He’s got a long ways to go, but I have no doubt he will get there. He’s a very strong-willed person,” Wescott said.

The rare mosquito-borne illness has already infected and killed 22 horses in 10 counties this year. EEE is nearly always deadly for horses, but they can be vaccinated. There is no vaccine for humans.

While only a small percentage of people who are infected with EEE will develop serious symptoms, those serious symptoms often prove fatal. Ten people in Michigan were diagnosed with EEE last year, with the first three suspected cases announced in late August. Six of the 10 who contracted the disease, all in southwest Michigan, died.

“Last year, we maybe thought, was just the circumstances with the rainfall and habitat and temperatures. It was very, very out of the ordinary. Now that we’ve seen it two years in a row, we are quite concerned,” Kent County Health Department Supervising Sanitarian Brendan Earl told News 8 Monday.

But he also said the disease can be preventable if we can stop mosquito bites.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is conducting nighttime aerial sprays to kill mosquitoes over the 10 counties where animal cases have been confirmed, including Barry County, starting Wednesday. Those sprays use Merus 3.0; the insecticide in it is pyrethrins, which officials explained occurs naturally in chrysanthemum flowers. The same spray was used last year and the state says there were no negative health effects on people afterward.

“This suspected EEE case in a Michigan resident shows this is an ongoing threat to the health and safety of Michiganders and calls for continued actions to prevent exposure, including aerial treatment,” Michigan’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a Tuesday statement. “MDHHS continues to encourage local officials in the affected counties to consider postponing, rescheduling or cancelling outdoor activities occurring at or after dusk, particularly those involving children to reduce the potential for people to be bitten by mosquitoes.”

Health officials are reminding people to wear insect repellent with DEET, wear long pants and sleeves when outdoors and stay inside at peak mosquito hours when possible. You should also clear any standing water on your property where mosquitoes may spawn and make sure your window screens are in good condition to keep them out of your home.

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