Brain-eating amoeba suspected in 2nd Midwest death

Brain-eating amoeba suspected in 2nd Midwest death

OMAHA, Neb. — A child likely died from a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in an eastern Nebraska river, health officials said, making it the second such probable death in the Midwest this summer and raising the question of whether climate change is playing a role.

The Douglas County Department of Health, which is based in Omaha (Nebraska), reported Wednesday that the child had died from primary amebic meningoencephalitis. This infection, usually fatal, was caused by the naegleria Fowleri Amoeba. Officials believe that the child was swimming in the Elkhorn River, just west of Omaha, when he came into direct contact with the amoeba.

Officials have not released the child’s identity.

Last month, a Missouri resident died of the same infection likely caused by the amoeba at Lake of Three Fires in southwestern Iowa. The lake’s beaches were closed by Iowa authorities for almost three weeks as a precaution.

People are usually infected when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose while swimming or diving into lakes and rivers. Other sources have been documented, including tainted tap water in a Houston-area city in 2020. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea or vomiting, progressing to a stiff neck, loss of balance, hallucinations and seizures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that naegleria Fowleri is a rare infection. They report about three cases per year in the United States. However, these infections can be fatal.

There were 154 cases reported between 1962 and 2021 in the U.S., with only four survivors, according to the CDC. Of those, 71 cases were reported between 2000 and 2021. Texas and Florida recorded the most infections with 39 and 37 cases respectively, and the amoeba is typically found in southern states because it thrives in waters that are warmer than 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius).

But, infections have moved north over the past few years. Two cases were reported in Minnesota by Dr. Lindsey Huse during Thursday’s news conference.

” “Our areas are getting warmer,” she stated. “As things warm up, the water warms up and water levels drop because of drought, you see that this organism is a lot happier and more typically grows in those situations.”

According to the National Water Information System, the surface water temperature near where the child was swimming was between 86 and 92 degrees.

Jacob Lorenzo­Morales from the Universidad de La Laguna, Canary Islands, who studied naegleria Fowleri said that the increase in infection rates since 2000 could be attributed to two things: better diagnosis and knowledge, as well as the warmer water temperatures providing “perfect conditions” for amoeba growth.

Researcher Sutherland Maciver, who has studied the amoeba at the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland, says not all infections are reported and that the 430 cases that have ever been reported worldwide are almost certainly an undercount. He said that scientists can’t prove the Nebraskan case was caused by climate change.

The two researchers co-authored a paper titled “Is Naegleria fowleri an Emerging Parasite?” that examined factors behind the increase in reported cases.

Health officials suggest that freshwater swimmers use a plug to protect their nasal passages. They also recommend that they avoid swimming with their heads submerged and refrain from waterskiing and tubing which can force water into their eyes, nose, and mouth. You cannot be infected by drinking contaminated water.

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