Berrien Co. Health Department recommends moving outdoor events inside

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - The Berrien County Health Department on Wednesday recommended that groups planning outdoor events move things inside instead.

It is the latest reaction to a growing number of human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE.

On Tuesday, three new confirmed cases in Cass, Van Buren, and Barry counties were announced. Two of the new cases in Cass and Van Buren were fatal.

There is now one confirmed and one suspected case in Berrien County.

There are a total of seven confined cases of EEE in Michigan this year — the same number the state has experienced in the previous 10 years combined.

How it’s happening is no mystery.

“Humans cannot get it from other humans, humans cannot get it from horses; it is caused by a mosquito bite,” said Gillian Conrad with the Berrien County Health Department.

Yet officials have no idea why it’s happening more this year than in past years.

Two Eau Claire farmers are hospitalized and incapacitated. One of the cases has apparently been confirmed, while the other is listed as a suspected case.

“Interestingly, many people who are infected with this virus have absolutely no symptoms at all. Their immune system just kicks in and it fights it off. But a small percentage of people can develop very serious complications of this viral illness,” South Bend physician Dr. Rob Riley said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 30% of people with EEE die.

Persons over the age of 50 and under age 14 seem to be at the greatest risk for developing infection.

“And anyone that might have a compromised immune system,” added Conrad. “That could be from being on certain medications, cancer treatments, having some kind of underlying medical condition or concern.”

EEE is fatal in about 90% of all cases involving horses.

There is no human vaccine for EEE, nor is there any treatment available.

“Right now, we have no treatment that is effective in eradicating this virus, so the treatment is really what we call supportive care, which means we put people in hospital, we observe them, we make sure they get IV fluids, we make sure they get enough oxygen, and then we hope their body's immune system kicks in and is able to kick this virus,” Riley explained.

Riley added that some EEE patients make a full recovery, while others can experience chronic neurological impairment for the rest of their lives.