Could rare EEE virus return this year?

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 6:56 PM EDT
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BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich./ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) had a deadly impact in Michiana in 2019, even forcing Elkhart County to declare an emergency order last year. 16 News Now asked two local health departments about the chances of the rare mosquito-borne virus emerging again in 2021.

“We most likely won’t have eastern equine encephalitis every summer, like we did in the summer of 2019. Typically, that virus has a longer life cycle between outbreaks, sometimes as much as 10 years between big outbreaks of that virus,” said Gillian Conrad, Communications Specialist at the Berrien County Health Department.

“That remains to be seen. This is either going to be the third year in a three-year cycle for EEE or last year was. It’s kind of hard telling. In 2018, there was a small blip,” explained Brett Davis, Assistant Director of Environmental Health at the Berrien County Health Department.

Yet another pest - the tick - can wreak havoc on people’s health.

“We know that there are more ticks this year than seem to be present in past years,” Conrad said.

St. Joseph County has the most ticks compared to any other part of the state.

“And those ticks have a higher incidence of carrying the pathogen that causes Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses,” Davis said.

To prevent tick bites, wear CDC-approved bug repellant containing DEET; avoid tall grasses while hiking; and spray clothes with Permethrin, which Davis said can be found at most big box stores.

“And making sure that you are clearing out areas from around your home that could be breeding grounds and homes for mosquitoes and ticks, piles of brush or wood,” Conrad listed off.

It’s also important to check for ticks, even on pets, after spending time in the woods or a backyard. Ticks, said Conrad, prefer to lodge in warm or moist areas on the body, including in armpits, ears, the groin area, and along the hairline.

“Some of the ticks that are in their nymphal stage - or kind of young adolescent stage - can actually be some of the most dangerous and more likely to carry Lyme disease, but be so tiny that they can sometimes look like a freckle or even just a piece of dirt,” emphasized Conrad.

To properly remove a tick, the Berrien County Health Department said to take a pair of sharp tweezers, get as close to the skin as possible, and try to remove the tick in a single motion.

Michigan residents who find a tick can submit a photo to the state health department. Davis, with St. Joseph County, said he is happy to speak to anyone concerned about ticks.

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