OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Douglas County health officials said Wednesday they suspect the recent death of a local child was caused by a brain-eating amoeba from the Elkhorn River.
The CDC is trying to confirm that the death was caused by primary amebic meningoencephalitis after the child went swimming in the river on Sunday.
In the meantime, the Douglas County Health Department is urging extra caution when coming into contact with freshwater sources such as rivers, lakes and streams.
“Naegleria fowleri is present in many freshwater sources and is identified further north as previously cooler regions become warmer and drier,” states the DCHD release.
A similar case led to the death of a Missouri resident believed to have been infected while swimming in an Iowa lake last month. The lake was closed to swimmers for several days while the CDC tested the waters to confirm the presence of Naegleria fowleri.
But a press release from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said, “the CDC does not recommend testing untreated rivers and lakes for Naegleria fowleri because the amoeba occurs naturally and there is no established association between detection or concentration of Naegleria fowleri and the risk of infection.”
Because the unicellular organism tends to enter the body through the nose, health officials say.
“We think that when people dive or jump in that kind of water, they get an inoculation of water in the nose and then they get access to the central nervous system and the brain,” says Dr. Mark Rupp, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center tells 6 News.
Officials recommend keeping your head above water when swimming in rivers, lakes and streams; or to stuff your nose while swimming or diving – or simply avoid fresh water in the later weeks of summer when the water temperature rises and the water level drops. The health department also noted that people cannot be infected by drinking contaminated water.
“The real tragedy behind this is that the treatments aren’t great and the mortality is very, very high, almost universal,” says Dr. Rupp on the extremely rare disease.
According to the CDC, 31 naegleria fowleri infections have been reported in the US between 2012 and 2021, and only 154 cases since 1962.
“Of those cases, 28 people were contaminated with recreational water, two people were infected after performing nasal irrigation with contaminated tap water, and one person was infected with contaminated tap water used on a slip-n-slide in the backyard,” the statement said. CDC website. .
Symptoms — usually occurring within 12 days of an infection — can include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting, but can progress to neck stiffness, confusion, and seizures. In the worst cases, there are other neurological symptoms, but the health department noted that deaths from PAM have typically occurred within five days of infection.
dr. Rupp says that while it is deadly, there is a helpful treatment for the infection.
“The only drug that seems to potentially have a beneficial effect is called miltefosine, and we have that here at the Nebraska Medical Center in case someone in our area has a defined infection,” he says. “We have this in stock and we obviously serve as a regional resource in case we get a case like this defined when we can potentially do something about it.”
KCRG employees contributed to this report.
Reporter Marlo Lundak contributed to the article.
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