Concerns grow as more cases of EEE are reported in Michigan

Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - 4:10pm

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Design by Jonathan Walsh

As the warm weather continues, areas of Michigan are increasingly at risk for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This rare brain infection is spread through mosquitoes and approximately one third of people infected die from the disease. There is no cure or vaccine for the virus.

Nine people have been infected in Michigan, including three fatalities. Thirty-three animal cases of EEE have also been confirmed in 15 Michigan counties, including Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Genesee, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Lapeer, Livingston, Montcalm, Newaygo, St. Joseph and Van Buren. 

Katherine Spindler, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan, explained that though EEE is not a particularly new virus, it has been more prominent this year.

“Is this going to become an epidemic?” Spindler questioned. “I suspect that’s not the case … We’re approaching winter, and a hard frost is going to kill off many, if not all, mosquitoes that are fostering this virus.”

LSA sophomore Nicole Lin of Grand Rapids, a recently affected area in Kent County, said in light of the virus, she has growing concerns for her family and friends. 

“It’s been pretty scary hearing about it,” Lin said. “I have a lot of friends and family there, and my mom is worried. I’ve talked to my friends to make sure they’re staying safe, especially since a lot of them get out late from work and school.”

LSA junior Alyssa Cutter is from Battle Creek, where two wolves were infected with EEE. Cutter said she wonders if the emergence of EEE is a result of climate change. 

“It will be interesting to see if this is something that emerges again next year and the year after that as we see the environment for mosquitos shifting with climate change,” Cutter said.

In addition, Cutter explained she has noticed the effects of EEE in her hometown, as Battle Creek has announced new safety measures. The measures have received some pushback, though, Cutter said.  

“Public health officials have put out information in the last few days that they’ll be doing aerial sprays with organic pesticide, and there’s actually been a lot of push back from those counties to get aerial spray taken off the agenda,” Cutter said. “People are worried about what it will do to their pets, inhaling the residue and the effects it will have on pollinators.”

According to their website as of Sept. 26, Washtenaw County Health Department will also participate in the aerial spraying of a small portion of Washtenaw County to combat the spread of the virus. It notes residents can opt out via email, but affirms aerial spraying does not carry any significant risks to human health, pets or the environment.

Since climate generally refers to a long period of time and this has been the only large occurrence of EEE, Spindler suspects weather is the source of the spread and reaffirms the importance of staying informed.

 

“People can always inform themselves by going to the CDC site, and there’s a really nice EEE virus page that has things about prevention, symptoms, transmission, statistics, links and references,” Spindler said. “For any infectious disease that you hear about, go to some reputable source.