Last summer, Michigan saw its biggest recorded outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE. There were ten confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne virus in humans and five deaths. Could another EEE outbreak be on the horizon this year? Public health officials say it’s tough to tell.
It’s hard to know whether EEE is present in a community until animals or humans start showing symptoms. Usually, it first appears in horses and deer. Until then, the most that state and county health departments can do is monitor mosquitos to see if they’re potential carriers of EEE and other arborviruses.
Kimberly Signs is an epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. She says it takes sustained funding to be able to do the kind of mosquito surveillance that can help public health officials make that determination.
Signs says COVID-19 has impacted that funding… as well as the MDHHS’s ability to actually get a hold of mosquitos.
“We need supplies to actually conduct testing. Sometimes there’s only one company that might make that product, a mosquito trap, for example, or components of it, and a lot of them were impacted and shut down by COVID-19. We’re finding out that the testing supplies that we need to test mosquitos are in short supply because companies are turning all their efforts to providing supplies for COVID-19.”
She says the MDHHS is partnering with Dr. Ned Walker from Michigan State University, as well as Kalamazoo County and Calhoun County to conduct a multi-year study to better understand EEE in Michigan.
“That project was late to get off the ground, but they are in the field now working and collecting mosquitos, but they are experiencing some challenges with their testing and things like that that were unanticipated. It is happening, but it’s not happening in the timeframe that we hoped for.”
Gillian Conrad is with the Berrien County Health Department. Berrien County saw two EEE cases in humans last summer. She says Berrien County has been able to do some mosquito collection to monitor arboviruses.
“We are continuing with our weekly mosquito (and tick) collection and identification efforts here in Berrien County. We haven’t noted anything out of the norm, but we don’t generally see viral activity until late summer or early fall.”
She says the BCHD is getting about $9,000 from the MDHHS to assist with the county’s vector-monitoring program. This money pays for temporary staff time and supplies used to catch mosquitos and ticks.
“We are looking at making adjustments in our budget for next year in several other areas, but we hope to have this minimal amount of funding earmarked for continuing this important activity.”