First Suspected Death From Brain Eating Amoeba Reported in Nebraska

17. August 2022 19:00 ·

Elkhorn River
The Elkhorn River in Douglas County / Photo: Geoff Roth - Nebraska Public Media News

The Douglas County Health Department says a child died this week from a suspected infection with Naegleria Fowleri, commonly referred to as the brain-eating amoeba.

It's believed the child acquired the amoeba while swimming in the Elkhorn River this past Sunday.

The amoeba causes Primary Amebic Meningoenencephalitis (PAM). While contracting the amoeba in the brain is rare, those affected rarely survive.

The federal CDC is conducting further testing to confirm the cause of death.

The Douglas County Health Department is urging everyone to take precautions around freshwater sources like lakes, rivers and streams where Naegleria Fowleri resides. The most common way it can enter the body and reach the brain is through the nose.

If confirmed, it would be the first known death from Naegleria Fowleri in Nebraska history, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Below is the complete news release from the Douglas County Health Department.

Case of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis Identified in Douglas County

A child in Douglas County died this week from a suspected infection with Naegleria Fowleri, possibly acquired while swimming Sunday in the Elkhorn River. That organism is responsible for Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). The CDC is conducting further testing to confirm.

The Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) is urging residents to take precautions while being exposed to freshwater sources such as rivers, lakes, and streams. Naegleria Fowleri is present in many freshwater sources and is being identified further north as previously cooler regions become warmer and drier.

The single-celled organism can infect people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose, usually while swimming or diving. A person cannot be infected by drinking contaminated water, and the infection does not spread from person to person. Symptoms usually occur from 1-12 days following infection, and may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. These symptoms may progress to a stiff neck, confusion, seizures, and other neurological symptoms. Death occurs in 97% of cases within about 5 days of symptoms starting.

Plugging the nose, avoiding submerging the head and/or avoiding water entering the nose, avoiding stirring up sediment, and avoiding freshwater sources during later summer weeks when water temperatures rise and water levels decrease can reduce the risk of PAM. Activities that allow or force water into the nose, eyes, or mouth such as water skiing and high speed tubing increase risk.

Testing of natural water sources is not generally recommended, because the organism is present in so many places. “We can only imagine the devastation this family must be feeling, and our deepest condolences are with them. We can honor the memory of this child by becoming educated about the risk and then taking steps to prevent infection,” Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse said.

More information on PAM can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/general.html.