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A deer found in Hillsdale County last month tested pos­itive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a disease carried by mos­quitoes that’s par­tic­u­larly threat­ening for horses.

The recent Eastern Equine Encephalitis diag­nosis could have a deadly effect on horses in Hillsdale County. Courtney Meyet | Courtesy

“It’s not ter­ribly fre­quent, but it does occur and is some­thing we know is a pos­si­bility in ruminant pop­u­la­tions,” said Rebecca Burns, health officer at the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Com­munity Health Agency.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Ser­vices notified the agency the week of Oct. 13 of the diag­nosis, which was the first EEE diag­nosis in the county this year, Burns said.

According to the Michigan Emerging Dis­eases website, seven horses in Michigan have been diag­nosed with EEE in 2017. There have been no cases of humans with the disease this year, although people are sus­cep­tible.

Those under the age of 15 and over the age of 50 are most vul­nerable to the disease, but no more than 5 percent of human infec­tions result in illness, which typ­i­cally includes flu-like symptoms. Even fewer human cases are severe, and about a third of those are deadly, the website says.

For horses, EEE symptoms include loss of awareness, inco­or­di­nation, lethargy, and muscle paralysis, Burns said. According to the Michigan Department of Agri­culture and Rural Devel­opment, EEE fatality rates for horses ranges from 75 to 90 percent.

It’s common practice to vac­cinate horses against the disease every year, said Assistant Pro­fessor of Chem­istry Courtney Meyet. She said she’s not too con­cerned about the disease cropping up locally since she has vac­ci­nated her five horses.

As the cold weather wards off mos­quitoes, the disease is less of a threat, Meyet said, noting that it’s best to vac­cinate horses in the spring. The high cost of vac­cines probably deter some people from doing so, she added. She said she spends about $500 on a full set of vac­cines for her horses.

Betsy Teetor, owner of Teetor Eques­trian in Hillsdale, likewise said she wasn’t alarmed because she’s vac­ci­nated her horses.

“I heard that it was found in a deer and made note of it. But I haven’t changed any­thing about my horse man­agement or worried about it at all,” she said.

In general, that’s the attitude people should take, Burns said.

“People should not be overly worried, but it’s a good reminder for them to vac­cinate their horses and take pre­cau­tions for them­selves,” Burns said.