(Rick Bowmer)

School officials in Michigan on Thursday pushed up kickoff times of Friday night high school football games to avoid peak mosquito-activity hours after a rash of new cases of a sometimes-fatal disease communicated by the bugs.

Three people in the state have died of Eastern equine encephalitis this year, with four more people infected, according to state health officials (via MLive). They encouraged residents to stay indoors, secure all windows and screens and consider postponing outdoor events.

“We are taking this really seriously as a public health threat,” a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services told MLive this week.

Cases of EEE have been reported in New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, where a woman died of the disease in August. A Michigan man reportedly went from healthy to brain dead after contracting EEE that month.

More than 20 school districts, mainly in the state’s southwest, moved the start of games on Friday from 7 or 7:30 p.m., to between 5 and 5:30 p.m., MLive reported, to avoid unnecessary exposure to mosquitoes that may carry the virus. One game between Bangor High and Cassopolis will begin as early as 4 p.m.

EEE is spread to horses and humans through mosquitoes that feed on infected birds. Only 4 to 5 percent of people infected with the virus get sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include chills, fever, malaise, joint pain and muscle pain. Many people who survive are left with brain dysfunction, personality disorders, seizures or other mental and physical issues.

There is no cure for the disease for humans, but a vaccine for horses is available.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services advised fans attending the games to use insect repellent with DEET, steer clear of areas of standing water and wear long sleeves and pants, though the temperature will be in the mid-80s with close to 50 percent humidity in southwest Michigan at the revised kickoff times.

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