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EEE prompts health department warning to schools

Greg Chandler

Staff Writer

State health officials have confirmed a case of the mosquito-borne disease Eastern equine encephalitis in Barry County, and, as a result, some area schools are rescheduling evening activities to reduce the risk of residents being exposed to the disease.

The EEE case in Barry County is one of seven confirmed in humans in Michigan, four of which were announced Tuesday.

Three of the seven cases have been fatal, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Michigan is currently experiencing its worst Eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade,” MDHHS chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said. “The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites.”

MDHSS and the Barry-Eaton District Health Department have recommended schools and communities postpone or reschedule evening events until the first hard frost occurs.

Health officials said the individual in Barry County who contracted EEE is being treated, but the department is not releasing any further details, citing health information privacy laws.

“We do know we have a case, and that is all we can really say at this point,” department spokeswoman Milea Burgstahler said.

Humans can contract the EEE virus from the bite of a mosquito carrying the virus. While most people infected with the virus do not become ill, children under the age of 15 and those older than 50 are at greater risk for developing a severe infection, which could lead to permanent brain damage or death.

“The risk of bites from infected mosquitoes is highest for people who work or play outdoors in these areas,” Burgstahler said.

Early symptoms of EEE include the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, body and joint aches. Symptoms usually appear 4 to 10 days after exposure. EEE can develop into severe encephalitis (brain swelling), resulting in headache, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis.

Several Barry County school districts Wednesday announced schedule changes in response to the health advisory.

In the Hastings Area School System, today's freshman and junior varsity football games were rescheduled, with kickoff for the freshman game at 3:30 p.m., one hour earlier than usual. The junior varsity game will follow the freshman contest.

In addition, all sports and band practices will end by dusk, and the district is having a professional service spray all athletic fields and playgrounds to try to eradicate mosquitoes.

“We're trying to take all the necessary precautions,” Hastings Superintendent Dan Remenap said.

Remanap emailed a letter to district parents Wednesday, updating them on the EEE situation.

At Thornapple Kellogg Schools, no schedule changes have been made, but district officials are taking steps to rid themselves of mosquitoes.

“Our grounds department does an excellent job of maintaining our school grounds as well as our athletic venues,” TK Assistant Superintendent Craig McCarthy wrote in an email to The Banner. “We cut the grass around our buildings as well as on the practice fields weekly. There are few areas with standing water for mosquitos to breed. Additionally, we are scheduled to have our practice fields and the stadium sprayed as an added preventative measure.”

McCarthy recommended that students, staff and community members apply insect repellent before attending an outdoor event in the district.

It is our hope that our recommendations are followed and that the precautions we’re taking are sufficient to keep our students, staff and community members healthy,” he said.

At Delton Kellogg Schools, athletic director Mike Mohn said outdoor athletic events are being moved up to a 5:30 p.m. start time, at the latest. Today's junior varsity football game at Lawton will begin at 5:30, while the varsity football team’s Veterans Appreciation Night game against Lawton will kick off at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Mohn said.

Mohn said he looked into starting Friday's game at 4 p.m., but found scheduling of officials for an earlier time slot or Saturday day game difficult because of officials’ day jobs, plus many officials work collegiate games on Saturdays. He is encouraging both athletes and fans attending events to bring their own bug spray, since the school cannot provide that.

Lakewood Public Schools announced a plan to move the start time of evening events, as well as practices and youth programs, so that they will be completed by dusk. Today's home junior varsity game against Otsego will be played at 5, while Friday's homecoming game against Perry will kick off at 5 p.m.

In addition, the district is “looking into fogging critical areas; this takes a bit of lead time for licensed application,” Superintendent Randy Fleenor wrote in an email to The Banner.

The district plans to send information about EEE to parents this week, pending communication from health officials.

No changes are planned at Maple Valley Schools, where homecoming festivities are taking place Friday, according to an administrative assistant in the athletic department at the high school.

The Hastings Youth Athletic Association is reminding parents to have their kids use bug spray with DEET and to wear long sleeves under their practice jerseys to prevent mosquito bites. In a Facebook post to parents, a HYAA representative also encouraged parents be on time when picking up their children after practice concludes.

The MDHHS has recommended communities and schools take the following steps:

• Consider rescheduling, relocating or cancelling outdoor activities from dusk until dawn.

• If outdoor events are planned between dusk and dawn, attendees should be encouraged to use insect repellents to protect themselves. The repellents should include an active ingredient registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, such as DEET, picardin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone, and be applied on exposed skin and/or clothing. More information can be found at epa.gov/insect-repellents.

• Eliminate sources of standing water around buildings and facilities.

Health officials are recommending residents avoid outdoor activities from dusk until dawn; wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks with shoes when the weather permits; make sure windows and doors have secure screens to keep mosquitoes from getting inside; and get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets, barrels and other containers.

Other Michigan counties where EEE cases have been reported include Kalamazoo, Cass, Van Buren and Berrien, Khaldun said.

In addition to the human EEE cases, nine cases of EEE in horses were confirmed in Barry, Kalamazoo, Lapeer and St. Joseph counties as of Tuesday. None of the horses were vaccinated against EEE, and all the animals have died. An EEE vaccine is available for horses, but not for people.

In addition, five deer in Barry, Cass, Genesee, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties have been confirmed with EEE infection and were euthanized due to the severity of their disease symptoms, state officials said.

More information about EEE activity in Michigan can be found at michigan.gov/eee. More about EEE and how to prevent mosquito bites is available at cdc.gov/eee.

 

 

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