Suspected cases of potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus reported in Midwest

INDIANAPOLIS (WANE/WOOD) – Residents of Indiana and Michigan are facing another disease outbreak that may force them inside their homes.

The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) is urging residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites following reports of a probable human case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).

In Michigan, a woman told WOOD that a test run by the Mayo Clinic already found her husband had EEE. If it is confirmed, it will be Michigan’s first human case of EEE in 2020.

The EEE virus – more commonly found in horses – can cause serious illness and has a fatality rate of around 33 percent or higher in humans.

“Eastern equine encephalitis virus disease is rare in humans but can cause permanent complications and even death,” Indiana State Health Commissioner Kris Box said in a press release.

Symptoms of EEE virus include chills, fever, body aches and joint pain. Some people develop a more severe form of the disease affecting the nervous system and causing encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.

In Michigan, Tina Wescott said her husband, Jeff Wescott, was suffering from intense headaches, which later progressed into speech difficulties.

“He went from being this healthy adult one week and in a 10-day span … he couldn’t even walk unassisted. He was so weak. It really completely wiped him out. He’s lucky to be alive,” Tina Wescott said.

She wants the community to know just how serious the virus can be.

“It’s really bad. I didn’t think he was going to make it. I really didn’t think he was going to make it that first night. I saw things I never want to see again. It was horrifying … just struggling to breathe,” Wescott said.

The family is encouraged by the progress but knows there are a lot of challenges ahead.

The rare mosquito-borne illness has already infected and killed 22 horses in Michigan this year. EEE is nearly always deadly for horses, but they can be vaccinated. There is no vaccine for humans.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is conducting nighttime aerial sprays to kill mosquitoes over the 10 counties where animal cases have been confirmed,

People who are younger than 15 and older than 50 are at the greatest risk of severe disease if infected with EEE virus, according to Indiana health officials. People who think they may have EEE virus should visit a healthcare provider.

Health officials are reminding people to wear insect repellent with DEET, wear long pants and sleeves when outdoors and stay inside at peak mosquito hours when possible. You should also clear any standing water on your property where mosquitoes may spawn and make sure your window screens are in good condition to keep them out of your home.

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