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 single-celled organism tends to enter the body through the nose, health 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 can become infected by drinking contaminated water.
Naegleria fowleri infections, which are not spread from person to person, are rare. According to the CDC, 31 infections were reported in the U.S. 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.
KCRG employees contributed to this report.
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