Girl, 14, battles rare mosquito-borne illness EEE

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kalamazoo County girl is fighting for her life after she was diagnosed with a rare mosquito-borne disease.

On Monday, state health officials announced three suspected cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in people living in Berrien and Kalamazoo counties.

Doctors say one in three people who are diagnosed do not survive.

Savanah DeHart is one of the people diagnosed with a suspected cause of the virus. The 14-year-old’s mother Kerri Dooley told News 8 Tuesday that her daughter was on a ventilator and could not speak.

“She just kind of lays there for now. Her brain is trying to heal itself and she can’t do anything until that happens,” Dooley said.

The virus is considered rare but state health official have seen six horses in southwest Michigan die from it so far this year. It can only be transmitted to humans by mosquitoes and not from person to person.

“A person has a 4% chance of contracting the EEE and then of those 4%, only 1% actually have encephalitis from it,” Dooley said.

The community is reaching out with support for Savanah by raising money for her medical expenses and offering words of encouragement on the Savanah Strong Facebook page.

Savanah’s mother says her daughter first had what seemed like a simple headache. She never imagined she would be diagnosed with the dangerous disease.

“It has been probably been the worst time of my life.” Dooley said. “I watched my daughter almost check out.”

She said she was surprised by how quickly the virus attacks.

“It sucks. It’s a horrible feeling but I don’t know what I can tell anyone other than to just watch, just be careful, watch where you’re bringing them,” Dooley said.

She said her family does take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

As Savanah’s immune system fights the virus, the family is taking each day as it comes.

“She is just a happy, very happy, girl and does not deserve to go through this,” Dooley said.

The family is waiting for an additional test from the state to provide further confirmation of Savanah’s condition.

They are planning to transfer her to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids in a couple weeks to begin the long road to recovery.

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