‘Perfectly Healthy’ Man Was Brain-Dead in Nine Days After Getting Mosquito-Borne Virus

September 18, 2019 Updated: September 18, 2019

A Michigan man was “perfectly healthy” before contracting Eastern equine encephalitis, a mosquito-borne virus known as EEE, a family member said.

Gregg McChesney, 64, died last month after a nine-day illness, according to his obituary.

“He was a perfectly healthy, happy human being and within a matter of nine days he went from perfectly healthy to brain-dead,” Mark McChesney told WOOD-TV on Sept. 17.

“All of a sudden he had a seizure and next thing you know, he’s in the ER and he just never came out of it.”

Doctors scrambled to treat McChesney but weren’t able to.

“Right off the bat, we were like, ‘How could this happen? What did happen?’” Mark McChesney recalled. “We just didn’t know and the doctors were just doing everything they could to try to say it was this or that, and they just couldn’t figure it out.”

Mosquito zika
File photo of an aedes aegypti mosquito on human skin in Cali, Colombia, on Jan. 25, 2016. (Lus Robayo/AFP/Getty Images)

EEE has a fatality rate of 33 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The fatality rate is higher in some areas.

Michigan health officials reported two additional deaths on Tuesday (pdf). There have been seven confirmed EEE cases in the state.

The state Department of Health and Human Services was urging people to cancel, postpone, or reschedule events at or after dusk, according to a press release sent to news outlets. That includes events such as sports practices or outdoor music practices.

Caution should be exercised until the first frost of the year, the department said.

“Michigan is currently experiencing its worst Eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for the department, in a statement. “The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites.”

The United States is seeing more EEE cases than normal, with deaths in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A 5-year-old girl was recently diagnosed with the virus in Massachusetts, and has received massive support online.

The eastern equine encephalitis virus cases reported by state in the United States from 2009 through 2018. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Eastern equine encephalitis is a rare virus that causes brain infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Approximately 30 percent of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurological problems.

Only six cases were reported nationwide in 2018; the peak since 2009 was in 2012, when 15 cases were reported.

Symptoms typically appear after 4 to 10 days and include chills, fever, and malaise. The illness can last one to two weeks. Death usually happens two to 10 days after symptoms start appearing “but can occur much later,” the agency stated.

“Of those who recover, many are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many patients with severe sequelae die within a few years.”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
RECOMMENDED