Brain-eating amoeba suspected of second death in the Midwest

Brain-eating amoeba suspected of second death in the Midwest

OMAHA, Nebraska (AP) — A child likely died of a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in an eastern Nebraska river, health officials said, marking the second likely death in the Midwest this summer and raising the number of deaths. question whether climate change plays a role.

The Douglas County Department of Health, based in Omaha, Nebraska, reported Wednesday that doctors believe the child died of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a usually fatal infection caused by the naegleria fowleri amoeba. Health officials believe the child came into contact with the amoeba on Sunday while swimming in the Elkhorn River, just west of Omaha.

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. Iowa officials closed the lake beach for nearly three weeks as a precaution.

Humans are usually infected when water with the amoeba enters the body through the nose while swimming or diving in lakes and rivers. Other sources have been documented, including contaminated tap water in a city near Houston 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 say naegleria fowleri infections are rare — there are about three cases in the United States each year — but those infections are overwhelmingly 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 mostly found in southern states because it thrives in waters warmer than 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). . ).

But infections have migrated north in recent years, including two cases in Minnesota since 2010, Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsey Huse at a press conference Thursday.

“Our regions are getting warmer,” she said. “As things heat up, the water heats up and the water level drops because of drought, you see this organism is a lot happier and grows more typically in those situations.”

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

Jacob Lorenzo-Morales, a researcher at the Universidad de La Laguna in the Canary Islands who has studied naegleria fowleri, said on Thursday that an increase in infections since 2000 is due to two factors: better knowledge and diagnosis of the disease, and the rising incidence of infections. temperature in bodies of water that provide “a perfect environment” for the amoeba to thrive.

Researcher Sutherland Maciver, who has studied the amoeba at the Center for Discovery Brain Sciences at Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland, says not all infections are reported and the 430 cases ever reported worldwide are almost certainly an undercount. And, he said, scientists can’t say for sure that the Nebraska case is directly attributable to climate change.

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

Health officials recommend that freshwater swimmers stuff their noses, don’t put their heads underwater, and avoid activities like water skiing and tubing, which can force water into the nose, eyes or mouth. You cannot get infected by drinking contaminated water.

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