Brain-eating Amoeba Claims a 4-year-old’s Life

    September 7, 2013

Parents will want to hold their little ones tighter after learning of how a 4-year-old contracted a deadly brain infection doing something their kids do every summer–playing on a water toy.

The child’s identity hasn’t been released, but it has been confirmed that the Mississippi boy contracted the brain-eating Naegleria fowleri (N. fowleri) amoeba while visiting a home in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana in August. Officials say that the water at the Louisiana home tested positive for the amoeba, which they believe infected the child while he was playing. “The child contracted it by playing for a very long period of time on a slip n’ slide in the front yard of the residence they were visiting,” Parish President Dave Peralta said. The parish’s water supply didn’t test positive for the amoeba, but St. Bernard Parish is treating it to be on the safe side.

According to WebMD, N. fowleri amoeba is found in fresh water all over the earth, including lakes, ponds, mud puddles and untreated swimming pools. While the amoeba is considered common, the possibility of contracting the brain-eating organism is rare. Even if the amoeba is found in one’s water supply, this doesn’t mean they will necessarily die. N. fowleri amoeba only reaches the brain through the nose, not by drinking the water.

The brain-eating amoeba only affects a handful of people per year, but once it infects the brain it is almost always lethal. “Ninety-nine percent of people who get it die,” Dr. Dirk Haselow of the Arkansas Department of Health said. Symptoms of the infection include vomiting, fever, headache and loss of appetite. From the onset, the primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) infection caused by the amoeba may seem like a less serious illness. After the infection sets in, however, seizures and hallucinations are common, which may be eventually followed by a coma. Death usually occurs within 12 days. Drugs are being tested to treat the infection, but it is rare that they actually work.

Florida officials issued a warning following a 12-year-old boy’s death from the same infection in August. Should parents think twice about letting their kids play in untreated water during the summer?

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