Many mysteries surround treatment of EEE

By  | 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CNN) Health officials in southern New England and other parts of the country continue to monitor a spike in cases of Eastern equine encephalitis. The disease has a 30 percent fatality rate in humans and doctors say most survivors are likely to have severe neurological problems.

Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has treated half of the surviving EEE victims this year. Savannah Dehart, 14, is one of them.

"She's beating the odds. I mean, even when we first came here I don't think her prognosis was all that great," said Kerri Dooley, her mother.

Dooley says her daughter can't talk but she's slowly making progress with movement. Her doctor says it's a promising sign.

In Dr. Doug Henry's 25-year career, Dehart is his first patient with EEE. He says facilitating her rehab comes with challenges.

"I think what surprised me is really we how much we don't know about EEE. And in my particular area, how much we don't know about the rehabilitation effects on EEE and the prognosis and the recovery of EEE," he said.

He says there are many questions about EEE that don't yet have answers, among them-- why the disease kills some patients while others walk away.

"It's so rare that we have very few patients to look at and see what kind of recovery they make," Henry said.

He expects Dehart to stay at the hospital for the next several months. Even after that, he says her recovery will likely be a journey.

"We keep being told it's a marathon, not a sprint. One of the doctors here, he's a resident here, his words to us were, 'Just keep on keeping on.' And I just remember that. We just keep on keeping on," Dooley said.

Henry says he's using rehabilitation principles similar to those used for patients with traumatic brain injuries or strokes. He says Dehart's case could help answer some of the many unknowns about EEE.