Brain-eating amoeba may have caused death of child in Nebraska Health

Cara Murez

FRIDAY, Aug. 19, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The death of a child in Nebraska was likely caused by infection with a “brain-eating amoeba” that occurred after the child swam in a local river, state health officials announced this week.

In a press release, officials said it was the first such death ever reported in the state’s history. Known as Naegleria fowleri, The amoeba can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that is extremely rare but almost always fatal.

“Every year, millions of recreational water contacts occur, while only 0 to 8 Naegleria fowleri Infections are detected every year,” noted state epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Donahue in the press release. “Infections typically occur later in the summer, in warmer, slower-flowing water, in July, August and September. Cases are more commonly identified in southern states but have more recently been identified further north. Limiting the possibility of freshwater getting up your nose is the best way to reduce the risk of infection.”

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to confirm the child’s cause of death through testing. Lindsay Huse, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said of the child’s death during a news conference Wednesday: NBC News reported.

Huse said the child went swimming in Nebraska’s Elkhorn River on Aug. 8, showed symptoms five days later, and was hospitalized within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

The child, about whom authorities have not released further information out of respect for the family, died on August 18, Dr. Kari Neemann, medical adviser for Douglass County, during a news conference about the death.

“Right now we’re simply asking the public to be aware and take precautions when exposed to warm freshwater sources,” Huse said.

The unicellular organism N.fowleri can be found in soil and in fresh water such as lakes, streams, hot springs and rivers. It can infect people when contaminated water gets up their nose. The amoeba has been found more commonly in northern states as climate change drives rising air and water temperatures.

The amoeba infects about three people annually in the United States and is usually fatal, according to the CDC. A total of 154 known amoebic meningoencephalitis infections occurred between 1962 and 2021. Only four of those infected survived.

A Missouri resident also died in July from an infection with the amoeba, who may have contracted it while swimming in an Iowa lake.

Swimmers should try to prevent water from entering their noses by blocking their noses when going underwater in fresh water, Huse said. Health officials also suggest not stirring up sediment in shallow, warm water. Swallowing water does not cause this infection.

“Make sure you don’t engage in activities that cause a lot of water in your nose, like water skiing, high-speed tubing and those kinds of activities,” Huse said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on brain-eating amoebas.

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