Michigan man recovering from rare, deadly mosquito-borne illness

First confirmed case in Michigan since 2016

Left: Richard Force in the hospital. Right: Force and his wife speak to WOOD TV.
Left: Richard Force in the hospital. Right: Force and his wife speak to WOOD TV.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – A Michigan man is recovering after being diagnosed with a rare and often deadly mosquito-borne illness.

Richard Force from Allegan County was rushed to the emergency room in August after suffering from flu-like symptoms for weeks.

Two weeks later, after showing signs of memory loss and suffering partial paralysis, he was diagnosed with  Eastern equine encephalitis.

"They started leaning towards the West Nile virus," his wife Kelly Force explained to WOOD TV Wednesday. "So we kept thinking it's the West Nile virus, we know where we're going now. But it came back negative."

According to the CDC, Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) is a rare illness in humans, and only a few cases are reported in the United States each year. Most cases occur in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states (see map).

Most persons infected with EEEV have no apparent illness. Severe cases of EEE (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting.

The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, or coma. EEE is one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases in the United States with approximately 33% mortality and significant brain damage in most survivors. 

Force's case is the first in Michigan since 2016. 

"I've been married to him 28 years. I've seen him go through a lot of being sick and stuff, but this here was like I'm losing him," Kelly Force said.

Richard Force has already made great strides in his recovery at a Kalamazoo rehab center. 

"They have me working a lot here, have me doing that motions," Richard Force told WOOD TV. "I'm in a wheelchair. I can't walk great yet. Apparently I had a major stroke in the process of all of this, so I still have a long way to go — probably another nine months to a year."

"We want him to be able to come home and make a full recovery at home," Kelly Force said. "Use the bug sprays. All it took was one mosquito and if one person can get it, another person can get it and maybe the next person won't survive."

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