GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Public health officials have identified two more cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in West Michigan horses, one of them in Kent County.
The other case is in Newaygo County, which has now had a two EEE cases — both in horses — this year.
The state’s first case this year, announced Aug. 11, was in a 2-year-old filly in Clare County. The second case, announced Aug. 19, was in a 12-year-old mare in Montcalm County. The first case in Newaygo County was announced last week, Aug. 28.
A total of 10 horses statewide had been infected with EEE as of Monday, state records show. No cases have been discovered in any humans in Michigan.
EEE is a rare mosquito-borne illness. It kills about a third of people who develop symptoms. Those symptoms include fever, chills and body aches. Severe cases can lead to headaches, disorientation, tremors, seizures, paralysis, brain damage, coma and death.
The Kent County Health Department says about 1% of people infected can develop encephalitis, a neurological issue of inflammation of the brain, which could be fatal.
Last year, EEE infected a record 10 people in Michigan. Six of them died, all in the southwestern region of the state.
State veterinarian Dr. Nora Wineland said the current numbers are similar to what we were seeing this time last year.
“The counties that we’re seeing it in are slightly different, but we are within two or three cases of where we were last year,” Wineland said.
While there have been no human EEE cases reported in Michigan so far this year, health officials say there is some concern individuals could be more at risk of contracting the virus as coronavirus precautions have people spending more time outdoors.
“Because of coronavirus, there’s a lot more outside activity because that’s something people can do and a good way for people to social distance. So it can be very tricky to balance the coronavirus verse the mosquito borne illness EEE,” Brendan Earl with the Kent County Health Department said.
However, health experts say coronavirus precautions should remain a top priority for every community, regardless of its EEE status.
“The cases of coronavirus and the fatalities due to coronavirus are way, way higher than what EEE was last year,” Earl said. “So you should first be aware of coronavirus and then keep in the back of your mind things like EEE and West Nile virus.”
The typical fatality rate is much higher in horses at 90%. However, you can protect horses with a vaccine, while there is no vaccine for people.
Horse owners are advised to keep the animals in a barn with a fan during peak mosquito hours and cover them with a mosquito repellent.
To protect yourself from EEE, you should use an insect repellent that includes DEET, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors and make sure your window screens are in good repair to keep out mosquitoes. You should also get rid of the standing water on your property where mosquitoes can spawn.
The threat of infection will remain until the weather turns and a hard freeze kills mosquitoes.
KCHD says West Nile virus has also been detected in Kent County through mosquito surveillance this summer. More information on WNV can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
— News 8’s Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.