Nevada boy dies from rare brain eating amoeba

A young boy in Nevada has died of a brain eating amoeba that officials believe he contracted at Lake Mead, local officials reported.

The child, a Clark county resident who has not been named, may have been exposed to Naegleria fowleri at the lake just on its Arizona side in early October.

He began exhibiting signs of infection about a week after being exposed, according to an investigation by the Southern Nevada Health District.

Officials did not reveal the juvenile’s exact age – only saying he was under-18 – name or where in Clark County he resided.

Naegleria fowleri infection is extremely rare. Only 31 cases were reported in the US between 2012 and 2021, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. reports. 

The majority of infections are diagnosed in young males, especially those under age 14. 

They are also more common in the summer months, as the amoeba thrives in warm freshwater settings such as hot springs and lakes. 

Infection is also fatal over 97 per cent of the time. In the US, there were 143 infections from 1962 through 2017. All but four of them were fatal.

The amoeba travels up the nose and into the brain. Early symptoms include severe headache, stiffness, and nausea. But as the infection advances, brain tissue begins to die, causing confusion, seizures, and coma.

Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as a brain-eating amoeba, typically resides in warm freshwater settings. The amoeba enters through the nose and travels to the brain, causing a severe central nervous system infection that is fatal in 97 per cent of cases.

Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as a brain-eating amoeba, typically resides in warm freshwater settings. The amoeba enters through the nose and travels to the brain, causing a severe central nervous system infection that is fatal in 97 per cent of cases. 

The victim is believed to have been exposed to the amoeba when swimming on the Arizona side of Lake Mead in early October. Health officials say he began exhibiting symptoms about a week later.

The victim is believed to have been exposed to the amoeba when swimming on the Arizona side of Lake Mead in early October. Health officials say he began exhibiting symptoms about a week later. 

‘My condolences go out to the family of this young man,’ said Dr Fermin Leguen, District Health Officer for the Health District.

Dr Leguen added, ‘While I want to reassure the public that this type of infection is an extremely rare occurrence, I know this brings no comfort to his family and friends at this time.’

Three cases of infection were reported over the summer. Thursday’s announcement marks the third fatality the US has suffered this year. 

What is Naegleria fowleri? 

Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that ‘literally eats the brain tissue,’ according to Dr Anjan Debnath, a parasitic disease expert at the University of California, San Diego.

It thrives in warm climates in freshwater including hot springs and lakes.

Improper water treatment in pools, private ponds and even tap water can lead to deadly exposure to the amoeba as well. 

The amoeba travels up the nose where it has a direct route to the brain. 

Once a person’s olfactory nerve in the nose is exposed, symptoms typically come on within one to nine days.

Those who are infected will usually die within five days of symptoms first appearing. 

Early stage symptoms resemble those of the flu.

Symptoms as the infection worsens include severe neurological issues like seizures, hallucinations, confusion, and coma.

While infection is not always fatal, the recovery process can be arduous. In July, Florida teen Caleb Ziegelbauer contracted the infection.

Having spent roughly two months in the hospital, having endured a seizure and intubation, Ziegelbauer, 13, is stable and has been transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Chicago.

The amoeba causes Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, a rare and lethal central nervous system infection that causes inflammation and destruction of brain tissue.

Early symptoms resemble those of bacterial meningitis, an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. 

If left untreated, the infection has a case-fatality rate that can be as high as 70 per cent.

Infection with Naegleria fowleri can occur if freshwater containing the amoeba is pushed up the nose through activities such as jumping or diving into the water.

Symptoms of infection early on include headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. But those symptoms can worsen very quickly. 

In the later stages, an infected person may experience stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, seizures, hallucinations, and coma.

Even with antibiotic treatment, most people with this infection die within 10 days of symptom onset, though rapid diagnosis and treatment may increase the likelihood of survival.

The amoeba thrives in temperatures of around 115 Fahrenheit, making it more common in states where hot weather is not uncommon such as Florida and Texas. 

A majority of infections have been reported in states that experience high temperatures. 

While infection is rare, there have been several cases reported over the past few years. 

In August, a Nebraska boy died of the infection after having been exposed while swimming in Elkhorn River, which crosses through the Omaha area.

Before him, a Missouri man contracted the infection in early July after swimming in the Lake of Three Fires in southwestern Iowa. He died about a week later. 

The amoeba can also lurk in water that has been insufficiently sanitized through chlorination. 

A three-year-old boy died in Texas this time last year after swimming in water at a splash park that had not been properly sanitized. 

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