The death of a Nebraska child has been linked to the brain eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri that kills nearly every single person it infects.
The unnamed child is believed to have caught the infection while swimming in Elkhorn River, which crosses through the Omaha, Nebraska, area. Officials revealed that he died in Douglas County, which includes the state’s largest city. If confirmed, this would be the Cornhusker’s state first recorded case of brain eating amoeba infection.
Brain eating amoeba infections are rare but incredibly deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 154 cases from 1962 to 2021, with another three so far this summer. Only four Americans have ever survived the infection.
Experts warn that the beings are most active during summer months when the temperature begins to warm. They are found in lakes and rivers around America, though they can also be hiding in swimming pools and splash parks that do not have proper sanitation practices.
‘Millions of recreational water exposures occur each year, while only 0 to 8 Naegleria fowleri infections are identified each year,’ Dr Matthew Donahue, Nebraska state epidemiologist said in a statement.
‘Infections typically occur later in the summer, in warmer water with slower flow, in July, August, and September.
‘Cases are more frequently identified in southern states but more recently have been identified farther north. Limiting the opportunities for freshwater to get into the nose are the best ways to reduce the risk of infection.’
Which part of Elkhorn River – which runs from near Bassett, Nebraska in the northern region in the state down to the southeast portion of the state where it combines with the Platte River near Omaha – the child contracted the infection in was not revealed.
Florida student, 22, who survived brain-eating amoeba had to learn to walk and write again after disease left him brain damaged
A student in Florida was left unable to walk up stairs and write after a deadly brain-eating amoeba that he caught from ‘cannon-balling’ into a stagnant pond left him underweight and brain damaged.
Sebastian Deleon, now 22, from Weston, is one of a lucky four people to survive an infection with the amoeba — named Naegleria fowleri — out of 154 recorded cases in the United States. He was infected six years ago at the age of 16.
In the early stages, he was struck down with a severe headache that felt like a smooth rock was ‘pushing down’ on his head. It quickly left him unable to get up and needing sunglasses ‘even when the sun wasn’t out’, prompting his parents to rush him to hospital.
Once there doctors put him on seven antibiotics and into an induced coma. When he came round about a week later, he needed some three weeks in rehabilitation to regain much of his strength.
Experts are calling on Americans to be aware of the amoeba that lurks in waterways throughout the country, saying global warming — heating stagnant pools further north in the country — makes it a risk in other areas.
Sebastian Deleon, now 22, from Weston in Florida, has revealed his experience after catching the brain-eating amoeba — scientifically named Naegleria fowleri. He said it initially left him with a severe headache, before he became sensitive to the sun and struggled to get up. He is one of the lucky four to survive the infection out of 154 known cases
It is the third confirmed case of brain eating amoeba in America this year. On July 6, a Missouri man caught the amoeba after swimming in the Lake of Three Fires in southwestern Iowa. He later died on July 18.
A second case was detected in Caleb Ziegelbauer, 13, of Port Charlotte, Florida. He was infected after swimming in a river near his home.
Ziegelbauer is still alive – long outliving the two week period where a person will usually die after being infected.
The teen is still in the hospital fighting the infection, but has recently been taking off of his ventilator for some periods of time as his condition improves.
Dr Anjan Debnath, a parasitic disease expert at the University of California, San Diego, told DailyMail.com last month that because of how rare it is, doctors also often misdiagnose symptoms as meningitis – wasting valuable time that could be used treating the parasite.
This was the case for Ziegelbauer, where valuable time early in his infection was wasted because of a misdiagnosis.
Debnath said that the amoeba thrives in temperatures of around 115 Fahrenheit, meaning it will be most active on the hottest days of summer in states where high temperatures are not uncommon.
He explained that it enters through the nose’s olfactory nerve, giving it a short and direct route into the brain. If water that contains the amoeba enters the nose then it will likely lead to infection.
Ingesting water through the mouth is ok, though, because stomach acid is strong enough to kill the amoeba.
Once a person’s olfactory nerve is exposed it can take around one to nine days for them to start experiencing symptoms. They will usually die within five days of symptoms first appearing.
‘It’s quite rapid, it’s very progressive. It literally eats the brain tissue,’ Debnath explained.
He describes the infection as taking part in two stages. The first is relatively minor, with the person experiencing a headache and other flu-like symptoms. This means that unless a doctor is aware that a person had been swimming in untreated water they may not even suspect the amoeba.
Once symptoms reach the second stage, a person will start experiencing severe neurological issues like seizures. A doctor will then likely find out about the infection through a spinal fluid test.
By that point a person has likely already experienced symptoms so severe that death is near-guaranteed.
While these cases are rare, with under three being detected per year on average, Debnath still advises against swimming in untreated water over summer, especially in places like Florida and Texas where temperatures get exceptionally high.
Because the amoeba only resides in fresh water, swimming in the ocean is generally safe.
If families do choose to visit a fresh water beach, anyone entering the water should wear a nose clip to prevent water from entering their nose.
Debnath also recommends against kicking up dirt or sand from the bottom of the lake as warmer areas deep down are where the microscopic beings usually lie.
Cases are not always spawned out of fresh water lakes and rivers, either. In 2020, a six-year-old boy in Texas died after being exposed through the water supply in his home city of Lake Jackson.
Last year, a three-year-old child in the state died after being exposed to the brain eating amoeba in a splash park. His family later sued for negligence, saying operators should have taken better care to sanitize the water.
A North Carolina child, whose age was not revealed, died last year after being exposed in an improperly sanitized private pond.
Debnath said that these cases could have been avoided with proper chlorination and sanitation of the sitting water alone.