A young boy in Nevada has died from a brain-eating amoeba that officials believe contracted him at Lake Mead, local officials reported.
The child, a Clark County resident who has not been named, may have been exposed to Naegleria fowleri near the lake just on the Arizona side in early October.
He started showing signs of infection about a week after being exposed, according to to an investigation by the Southern Nevada Health District.
Officials did not disclose the minor’s exact age — only saying he was under 18 — name or where in Clark County he lived.
Naegleria fowleri infection is extremely rare. Only 31 cases were reported in the US between 2012 and 2021, according to the centers for disease control and prevention. reports.
Most infections are diagnosed in young men, especially those under the age of 14.
They are also more common in the summer months, as the amoeba thrives in warm freshwater environments such as hot springs and lakes.
In 97 percent of cases, infection is also fatal. There were 143 infections in the US from 1962 to 2017. All but four were fatal.
The amoeba travels through the nose and into the brain. Early symptoms include severe headache, stiffness, and nausea. But as the infection progresses, the brain tissue begins to die, causing confusion, seizures, and coma.
Commonly referred to as a brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri is usually found in warm freshwater environments. The amoeba enters through the nose and travels to the brain, where they cause a serious central nervous system infection that is fatal in 97 percent of cases.
The victim is said to have been exposed to the amoeba in early October when he swam on the Arizona side of Lake Mead. Health officials say he started showing 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 it is of no comfort to his family and friends at this time.”
Three cases of infection were reported in the summer. Thursday’s announcement marks the third fatal accident the US has suffered this year.
What is Naegleria fowleri?
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that “literally eats the brain tissue,” said Dr. Anjan Debnath, a parasitic disease expert at the University of California, San Diego.
It thrives in warm freshwater climates, including hot springs and lakes.
Improper water treatment in swimming pools, private ponds and even tap water can also lead to lethal exposure to the amoeba.
The amoeba travels through the nose where it has a direct route to the brain.
Once a person’s olfactory nerve in the nose is exposed, symptoms usually appear within one to nine days.
Those who are infected 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 problems such as seizures, hallucinations, confusion and coma.
While an infection is not always fatal, the recovery process can be difficult. In July, Florida teen Caleb Ziegelbauer contracted the infection.
After about two months in the hospital, undergoing a seizure and intubation, Ziegelbauer, 13, is stable and transferred to a rehab center in Chicago.
The amoeba causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and deadly infection of the central nervous system that causes inflammation and destruction of brain tissue.
Early symptoms resemble those of bacterial meningitis, an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
If left untreated, the infection has a fatality rate of up to 70 percent.
Infection with Naegleria fowleri can occur if fresh water with the amoeba is pushed into the nose by activities such as jumping or diving into the water.
Symptoms of early infection include headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. But those symptoms can get worse very quickly.
In the later stages, an infected person may experience a stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and the environment, seizures, hallucinations and coma.
Even with antibiotic treatment, most people with this infection die within 10 days of the onset of symptoms, although prompt diagnosis and treatment can increase the chances of survival.
The amoeba thrives in temperatures around 115 Fahrenheit, making it more common in states where warm weather is not uncommon, such as Florida and Texas.
Most infections have been reported in high temperature states.
Although infection is rare, several cases have been reported in recent years.
In August, a Nebraska boy died of the infection after being exposed while swimming in the Elkhorn River, which runs 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 disinfected by chlorination.
About this time last year, a three-year-old boy in Texas died after swimming in water at a splash park that hadn’t been properly sanitized.