Michigan Teen Hospitalized With Brain Swelling From Rare EEE Virus

Savanah Dehart
Photo credit Savanah Dehart (Credit: Kerri Lynn Dooley‎ via Facebook)
By WWJ Newsradio 950

(WWJ) A Michigan family is reaching out for support for a 14-year-old girl they say is fighting a rare and dangerous virus.

Savanah Dehart is in serious condition at Kalamazoo's Bronson Hospital with eastern equine encephalitis, commonly known as Triple E or EEE, which is spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes.

The teen is one of four Michiganders -- all from Kalamazoo and Berrien counties -- believed to have the disease, which kills 33% of those who fall ill, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The three others are adults, health officials say, and all of them are hospitalized. 

According to Facebook pages in support of Dehart, she and her family have been through a roller coaster of tests, different diagnosis, heartbreaks and tribulations over the last week and-a-half.

On Friday, her family said Dehart woke up with a horrible headache, that got progressively worse. "By Saturday morning," her mother posted on Facebook, "my daughter was not my daughter. She could hardly walk, very confused, glazed face and couldn't speak at all." (Read more here).

At the emergency room, tests found severe swelling and inflammation of her brain. 

She was put on a feeding tube and ventilator to keep her alive while doctors treat her illness. 

Her mom posted this update Thursday:  "I know we ask everyday and without hesitation you all do, but please say some extra prayers for our girl today, tonight and tomorrow as they are going to try to take her ventilator out again tomorrow. We want her to be successful and we know she can be, we just need your help!"

Along with prayers, Dehart's family is seeking financial support. 

"Savanah is a very special young girl. She is very talented, she loves to sing, listen to music, draw, write and be super creative. She enjoys spending time with her family and loves just being around people. She has a pure heart and loves to help others in anyway she can and she has a drive to succeed in whatever she wants to do," her mother wrote. "Most of all she is most definitely a fighter and she is so proving that to us right now."

Those who wish to donate may do so via a Facebook fundraiser at THIS LINK

As of Aug. 26, six cases of EEE have been confirmed in horses in Barry, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties. All of the horses, which had not been vaccinated against EEE, have died.

Michigan health officials tell WWJ that mosquitoes carrying EEE are typically found in wooded or swampy areas. 

"Not everybody who is bitten by a mosquito with this virus gets sick, but those that do there is a about 33% fatality rate," said Lynn Sutfin of the MDHHS. "And those who do recover typically have brain damage."

While there is no EEE vaccine for people, Michigan residents are urged to protect themselves and their families from EEE, West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases by taking the following steps:
  • Maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires or similar sites where mosquitoes lay eggs.
  • Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.
  • Apply insect repellents that contain DEET, or other EPA approved product to exposed skin or clothing, and always following the manufacturer’s directions for use.
  • Wear light colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites. 

Learn more about eastern equine encephalitis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) AT THIS LINK