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Eau Claire County sees first human case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus in Wisconsin this year

Published: Sep. 2, 2020 at 11:09 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - For only the fourth time since 1964, a person in Wisconsin is infected with Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

That person is a girl younger than 18 from Eau Claire County.

Last week, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced six horses in northwestern Wisconsin tested positive for the disease.

And now for the first time this year, a human is sick with EEE.

It’s a rare, but deadly disease Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

On Wednesday, an Eau Claire girl tested positive for the disease, the first person to test positive since 2017 in the state and only the fourth since 1964.

E-e-e is spread to people or to animals by mosquitoes, which is why Marcia Danzinger, a nurse at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital Infection Prevention, says prevention is key.

“You really need to protect yourself from being bitten. So using the DEET spray’s, you can spray your clothing with the permethrin type spray. And also making sure that out in your yard you’re dumping things like bird baths and any containers that might pool water where it can become stagnant for several days,” she explained.

While many people who do get the virus do not get sick, it could progress to encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.

The DHS says of the people who develop encephalitis from EEE, 30 percent die.

“Initially if you just acquire the virus you would have fever, chills, body aches, that kind of thing. But if it progress on to encephalitis, then severe headache, vomiting, diarrhea,” said Danzinger.

According to the CDC, people older than 50 or younger than 15 appear to be at the greatest risk to develop a severe case of the disease when infected.

There is no specific treatment at this time for EEE.

According to the CDC, nationwide between 2010 and 2019, there were 107 confirmed cases of EEE, with 38 of those cases occurring last year.

The CDC also says only four to five percent of people who are infected with the virus develop EEE.

A female under the age of 18 in Eau Claire County is the first confirmed human case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in Wisconsin in 2020. This is only the fourth human case in the state since 1964.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed the testing on Wednesday. It is a rare, but potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages. In Wisconsin, only three other human cases have been reported between 1964 and 2019. However, since the infection can be so severe, and since EEE virus is known to be circulating in Wisconsin, residents and visitors anywhere in the state should be vigilant in preventing mosquito bites.

The state announced last week that horses in three northwestern Wisconsin counties were infected with the virus. In Wisconsin, the last human case of EEE was reported in 2017. EEE can be spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes acquire EEE virus by feeding on infected birds. The virus is not spread person to person or directly between animals and humans.

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