Douglas County child dies from possible brain-eating amoeba infection

(Douglas County, NE) -- A Douglas County child dies from a suspected brain-eating amoeba infection.

On Wednesday, the Douglas County Health Department released a statement saying that the child died this week from a suspected infection from Naegleria Fowleri. The health department says the child possibly acquired the amoeba while swimming Sunday in the Elkhorn River. Naegleria Fowleri is responsible for Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis. The CDC is conducting further testing to confirm.

The Douglas County Health Department is urging residents to take precautions while being exposed to freshwater sources such as rivers, lakes, and streams. Naegleria Fowleri is present in many freshwater sources and is being identified further north as previously cooler regions become warmer and drier.

DCHD says the single-celled organism can infect people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose, usually while swimming or diving. A person cannot be infected by drinking contaminated water, and the infection does not spread from person to person. Symptoms usually occur from 1-12 days following infection, and may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. These symptoms may progress to a stiff neck, confusion, seizures, and other neurological symptoms. Death occurs in 97% of cases within about 5 days of symptoms starting.

The Health Department says plugging the nose, avoiding submerging the head and/or avoiding water entering the nose, avoiding stirring up sediment, and avoiding freshwater sources during later summer weeks when water temperatures rise and water levels decrease can reduce the risk of PAM. Activities that allow or force water into the nose, eyes, or mouth such as water skiing and high speed tubing increase risk.

Testing of natural water sources is not generally recommended, because the organism is present in so many places. “We can only imagine the devastation this family must be feeling, and our deepest condolences are with them. We can honor the memory of this child by becoming educated about the risk and then taking steps to prevent infection,” Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse said.

More information on PAM can be found here.

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