INDIANAPOLIS — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed to Indiana health officials that a Hoosier in Elkhart County contracted eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, a rare virus transmitted by mosquitoes. The patient died as a result of the infection.
This is the first human case in Indiana since 1998 and only the fourth reported since 1964. The CDC says approximately 5 to 10 human cases of EEE are reported nationwide each year, typically from late spring through early fall. Nearly one-third of human cases are fatal.
“It’s hard to imagine losing a loved one because of a mosquito bite, but unfortunately, mosquitoes carry diseases that can be life-threatening,” said State Health Commissioner Kris Box, M.D., FACOG. “This is a tragic loss for an Indiana family.”
EEE has been found in more than a dozen horses and one mosquito sample in northern Indiana this year. Although mosquito activity decreases with cooler temperatures, the risk of mosquito-borne diseases will not be eliminated until the first hard freeze occurs.
Symptoms of EEE virus disease include chills, fever, body aches and joint pain. Some people develop a more severe form of the disease that affects the nervous system and causes encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). People who are younger than 15 years and older than 50 years are at the greatest risk of severe disease if infected with EEE virus. People who think they may have EEE virus disease should see a healthcare provider.
Meanwhile, just across the state’s northern border, officials in southern Michigan are warning that pesticides targeting the deadly mosquito-borne virus could kill other insects, including rare and beneficial species.
The spraying threatens essential pollinators such as bumblebees and the endangered Mitchell’s satyr butterfly, The Detroit Press reported. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources calls the butterfly “one of the world’s rarest” and can only be found in Indiana and Michigan.
Authorities have sprayed more than 541,000 acres in recent weeks as a result of an alarming rise of EEE, which has killed at least four people in Michigan.
The department’s spokesman John Pepin confirmed that the endangered insects living in the sprayed areas include the satyr butterfly, the state-threatened Silphium borer moth and Persius duskywing butterfly.
“The DNR issued a state threatened and endangered species permit for (mosquito) spraying because of human health and safety concerns,” Pepin said.
Several bee species are already suffering population declines in Michigan. Honeybees pollinate and increase crop fields, contributing $24 billion annually to U.S. agriculture.
Logan Rowe is a zoologist and conservation associate with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, a consortium of scientists providing information to promote biodiversity and conserve rare and declining plants and animals.
“The main issue I have is that the decision (to spray) was fast, with limited public or scientific input, little time or opportunity to weigh the positives versus the negatives, and with little understanding of the possible nontarget organisms that might be affected,” Rowe said.
Rowe also expressed concern that aerial spraying could kill natural insect predators of mosquitoes, such as dragonflies and damselflies — “which could make the problem even worse, as mosquitoes will reproduce daily.
State health officials urge Hoosiers to continue to take steps to prevent mosquito bites:
• Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are active (especially late afternoon, dusk to dawn and early morning)
• Use an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on clothes and exposed skin
• Cover exposed skin by wearing a hat, long sleeves and long pants in places where mosquitoes are especially active, such as wooded areas
• Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home
• Hoosiers also are encouraged to eliminate mosquito breeding sites by doing the following:
• Discard old tires, tin/aluminum cans, ceramic pots or other containers that can hold water
• Repair failed septic systems
• Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors
• Keep grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed
• Clean clogged roof gutters, particularly if leaves tend to plug up the drains
• Frequently replace the water in pet bowls
• Flush ornamental fountains and birdbaths periodically
• Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with predatory fish
To see the latest results of ISDH’s mosquito surveillance program, go to https://gis.in.gov/apps/ISDH/Arbo/. To learn more about EEE virus, visit the ISDH website at https://www.in.gov/isdh/28258.htm.