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6 horses dead from mosquito-borne disease in West Michigan

None of the horses were vaccinated against the disease, and they all died.

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is investigating three possible cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in residents from Kalamazoo and Berrien counties.

Additionally, as of Monday, Aug. 26, six cases of EEE, a mosquito-borne disease, were confirmed in horses in Barry, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties. None of the horses were vaccinated against the disease, and they all died.

State health officials say there is an EEE vaccine available for horses, but not people. There are also two deer in Barry and Cass counties that were diagnosed with EEE.

EEE is "one of the most dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in the United States," MDHHS said. It has a 33% fatality rate among humans and a 90% fatality rate among horses. It is transmitted through mosquito bites. 

“Mosquito-borne diseases can cause long-term health effects in people and even death,” said Dr. Mary Grace Stobierski, MDHHS state public health veterinarian and manager of the Zoonotic and Emerging Infectious Diseases Section. “These cases, along with confirmed cases in horses and deer in the state, stress the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites.” 

Signs of EEE include the sudden onset of fever, chills, body and joint aches. It can develop into severe encephalitis, resulting in headaches, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis. Permanent brain damage, coma and death may also occur. 

MDHHS is advising Michigan residents to take precautions against mosquito bites. They offer this advice:

  • Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites.
  • Maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs.
  • Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

State health officials also said one case of California encephalitis was confirmed in a Genesee County resident. 

Additionally, MDHHS is monitoring West Nile Virus in Michigan. They have identified 18 positive mosquito pools and eight infected birds in the Lower Peninsula. No human cases of West Nile Virus have been reported. 

Mosquito borne illnesses are a risk in Michigan until nighttime temperatures consistently fall below freezing. 

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