- A Nevada minor has died from a Naegleria fowleri infection, health officials said Wednesday.
- Infections of Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as brain-eating amoeba, are very rare – but almost always fatal.
- Naegleria fowleri causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a serious brain infection.
A Nevada minor has died from an infection of Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as brain-eating amoeba, local health officials said.
In a Wednesday news release, the Southern Nevada Health District said its investigation shows the individual may have been exposed to the amoeba on the Arizona side of Lake Mead in early October. He began to develop symptoms about one week later.
The Southern Nevada Health District did not identify the minor by name, but confirmed that the patient was male, under 18 and a resident of Nevada’s Clark County.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that Naegleria fowleri was the cause of the patient’s illness, the Southern Nevada Health District said.
“My condolences go out to the family of this young man,” Dr. Fermin Leguen, the district’s district health officer, said in a statement. “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.”
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What is Naegleria fowleri, or brain-eating amoeba?
According to the CDC, Naegleria fowleri is “a free-living” amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a serious brain infection and disease of the central nervous system.
A brain-eating amoeba infection is “extremely rare, and almost always fatal,” the Southern Nevada Health District notes.
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There have been 154 known PAM infections caused by Naegleria fowleri in the U.S. between 1962 and 2021, according to CDC. Only four of the infected survived.
Brain-eating amoeba infection symptoms
Naegleria fowleri infection symptoms can start with fever, nausea and headaches, according to the CDC. That may progress to stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations and coma.
Symptoms can start within one to 12 days of infection. Once these symptoms begin, the disease progresses rapidly. Most of the time, infected people die about five days after symptoms begin, but the timeline can vary.
“Patients have succumbed between one day post-symptoms up to between 13 to 15 days post-symptoms,” Christopher A. Rice, an assistant research scientist and Center for Drug Discovery manager at the University of Georgia’s College of Pharmacy, previously told USA TODAY.
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Unfortunately, many infected patients are not diagnosed in time. Rice said that poor diagnostics and poor therapeutics are why so few people survive PAM – adding that Naegleria fowleri infections are often misdiagnosed as bacterial or viral meningitis, because they share similar symptoms early on.
Where is Naegleria fowleri found?
Naegleria fowleri is a naturally occurring amoeba that can be found in soil and warm freshwater – including lakes, rivers, hot springs and poorly-maintained swimming pools the CDC and Southern Nevada Health District note.
The amoeba can be found across the U.S. – but Southern states, notably Texas and Florida, have historically seen most of the country’s infections.
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People become infected when water containing the amoeba enters the nose and reaches the brain, the CDC says. Naegleria fowleri infections do not spread from person to person or by drinking contaminated water.
How to avoid brain-eating amoeba
Again, brain-eating amoeba infections are very rare. But there are precautions you can take to reduce risk of exposure.
The best way to avoid a Naegleria fowleri infection is to avoid swimming and other activities in warm freshwater, the CDC says. If going underwater, plug your nose or avoid ducking your head into the water altogether
Contributing: Ashley R. Williams, USA TODAY.