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Grand Rapids school moves Friday football kickoff to avoid mosquito hours, EEE threat

red flag football field GettyImages-490414796.jpg
Grand Rapids school officials have changed football kickoff times for Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, to avoid playing during peak mosquito hours. This file photo shows a red challenge flag on the field during a Sept. 27, 2015, NFL game in Baltmore, Maryland. (WWMT/Getty Images, Patrick Smith)

On the heels of health officials reporting a spike in EEE cases in horses and one possible case involving a Barry County man, Grand Rapids school officials moved football kickoff to 6:30 p.m. for the Ottawa Hills versus Forest Hills game Friday.

In a written statement on the change, school district leaders said they are monitoring the infection reports for eastern equine encephalitis and will announce additional schedule changes as need.

The new kickoff time is earlier, in an effort to finish the game before dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. School leaders also encouraged students, parents, coaches, and staff to take precautionary measures to avoid mosquito bites while at the game, and whenever outdoors.

Those precautions, outlined by state and county health experts include:

  • Use insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon, eucalyptus, or para-menthane diol, and 2-undecanone
  • Follow product label instructions for repellents, reapplying as directed.
  • Do not use repellent on children under 2 months old; instead dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs and cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with netting.
  • Wear shoes and socks, light colors, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors.
  • Ensure that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens.
  • Repair or replace screens that have tears or other openings.
  • Use bed nets when sleeping outdoors or in conditions with no window screens.
  • Eliminate all sources of standing water that can support mosquito breeding around homes; emptying water in bird baths, abandoned swimming pools, wading pools, old tires and any other object holding water once a week.
  • Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating spaces.
  • Avoid outdoor activities from dusk until dawn when the mosquito species that transmits the EEE virus to humans is most active.

Eastern equine encephalitis a mosquito-transmitted virus that can cause inflammation of the brain. It is fairly rare in humans in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the country sees an average of five to 10 cases a year.

In 2019, Michigan experienced one of the worst outbreaks of EEE in the state's history. Michigan health officials said they documented 10 human cases, including six deaths, and 50 cases in animals from 20 counties that year.

So far in 2020, health officials have confirmed 22 confirmed cases in horses, from 10 counties throughout the state.

Signs of infection include a sudden fever, chills, body and joint aches. While initial symptoms may look a lot like the flu or other illnesses, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical officer, said there are a few symptoms that might indicate the need to seek immediate medical attention.

"Encephalitis is when someone has a high fever, a headache that is not normal, they may actually have neck stillness, they may not be acting like themselves," Khaldun said. "Anyone who has symptoms like that, they definitely should be contacting their doctor and potentially going to an emergency department, especially if someone has a change in their mental status. That is an emergency."

If the infection progresses, it can cause headaches, disorientation, tremors, seizures and paralysis. In the worst cases, permanent brain damage, coma and death may occur. Health officials said people younger than 15 and older than 50 were at the greatest risk of complications from infection.