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Cases of eastern equine encephalitis in 2020 more than double the pace of 2019

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Posted at 11:19 AM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 11:19:54-04

LANSING, Mich. — Eastern equine encephalitis can affect humans as well as horses, and state officials are saying both are more in danger this year than before.

The number of EEE cases is more than double the rate seen in 2019, and while horse owners are being urged to vaccinate their animals, all residents are being urged to take precautions against mosquito bites.

In 2019, some high school football games in Southwest Michigan and in Kent County were moved to earlier start times to avoid dusk, a particularly active time for mosquitos.

It’s not clear if the higher number of cases is due to a drop in vaccinations or more infected mosquitos, “but it doesn’t matter,” says state veterinarian Nora Wineland, DVM., in a release. “If we ignore what’s happening, we run the risk of losing lives.”

The number of EEE cases in Michigan horses doesn’t seem large: 18 cases, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. But at this point of the year in 2019, there were only eight cases in a season that saw a total of 50 cases in animals and 10 cases in humans, including six deaths.

Also, by this time of the year in 2019, cases of EEE were found in just three counties. Cases of EEE this year already have been found in eight counties, including Kent, Kalamazoo, Barry, Clare, Isabella, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo, and Oakland counties.

EEE can also affect dogs, sheep, and goats.

Here are recommendations from MDARD on protecting your animals:

  • Talk to a veterinarian about vaccinating horses against EEE.
  • Place livestock in a barn under fans (as mosquitos are not strong flyers) during peak mosquito activity from dusk to dawn.
  • Use an insect repellant on an animal that is approved for the species.
  • Eliminate standing water on the property—i.e., fill in puddles, repair eaves, and change the water in buckets and bowls at least once a day.
  • Contact a veterinarian if an animal shows signs of the illness: fever and stumbling, which can progress to being down and struggling to stand.

Here are recommendations on what people should do, even though the weather is cooler:

  • Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved products, 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 children’s pools, old tires, or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs.
  • Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.