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Boy Dies of Brain-Eating Amoeba in Lake

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The CDC warns families to take precautions.


Seven-year-old Kyle Lewis died last month after contracting a parasitic amoeba while swimming on a camping trip in Texas, reports KTLA. Doctors said Kyle contracted an infection from Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that thrives in warm, stagnant water. He died within four days of contracting the rare infection. The boy's father says Kyle was a happy and active child until he fell ill after the fateful camping trip. He wants Kyle's death to be a lesson to other parents.

There have been three other amoeba-related deaths in 2010 in the U.S. In July, 10-year-old Liza Hollingsworth of South Carolina died from amoebic meningitis after swimming in a lake or pond. (Authorities aren't sure exactly where she contracted the deadly amoeba.) In August, 7-year-old Davian Briggs died of a confirmed case of Naeligeria after swimming in an Arkansas lake or pond. Also in August, Minnesota 7-year-old Annie Bahneman died of meningitis caused by the amoeba after swimming in several different bodies of water in the state. (This was the first-ever reported case in Minnesota, and the first ever documented in a northern state.)

There have been other cases, too. In 2009, a 10-year-old boy died from a deadly amoeba in a Polk County, Florida, lake. The child, whose parents are both doctors, died of an infection of the central nervous system caused by a naturally occurring amoeba that causes the brain to swell. Three days after going inner-tubing, he got a headache -- and five days later, he was brain-dead. A 22-year-old Polk County man also died in 2009 from a deadly amoeba that officials believe he contracted at an Orlando watersports facility.

In 2008, a 9-year-old California boy died after contracting the amoeba while swimming in a lake.

In 2007, six young men (aged 10 to 22) died after swimming in lakes, ponds or under-chlorinated pools infested with the brain-eating amoeba, the CDC reports. According to WebMD, all six of the 2007 cases were in Florida, Texas and Arizona:

June 2007: Angel Arroyo Vasquez, age 15, of Orlando, Florida, contracted the amoeba while swimming in an apartment swimming pool.
July 2007: Will Sellars, age 11, also of Orlando, Florida, contracted it while swimming and wakeboarding in Lake Conway.
August 2007: Richard Almeida, age 10, of Kissimmee, Florida, contracted it while swimming and wakeboarding at the Orlando Watersports Complex.
August 2007: John "Jack" Herrera, age 12, contracted the amoeba while participating in water activities during summer camp at Lake LBJ in Texas.
August 2007: Colby Sawyer, age 22, contracted the amoeba while wakeboarding at Lake LBJ in Texas.
September 2007: Aaron Evans, age 14, contracted it while swimming in northeastern Arizona's Lake Havasu.

States where the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri (or N. fowleri) has caused disease include Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

What is it -- and how does it kill?

The deadly disease caused by the brain-eating amoeba is technically termed "primary amoebic meningoencephalitis," or PAM. After the amoeba enters the nose, it finds its way to the olfactory nerve, then follows the nerve into the brain. The amoeba secretes enzymes and proteins that dissolve brain cells so it can suck up the debris. Victims usually die seven to 10 days after infection, although symptoms may not appear for up to 14 days.

Initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, inability to pay attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations. Death follows the first symptoms by three to seven days.

What can moms do?

The CDC recommends that families:

  • Avoid swimming in warm, fresh water.
  • Wear nose plugs if you do swim in warm, fresh water.
  • Avoid digging or stirring up sediment while playing or working in warm waters.
  • Avoid thermally polluted water, such as the water near power plants.

Pediatrician Dr. Gwenn says there are a few additional precautions families should take:

  • Avoid poorly maintained swimming pools. "When travelling, make sure the integrity of the pool is topnotch in terms of chlorination," she says. "Ordinarily I'm not an alarmist, but since we are in a recession, it is possible that people will decide to vacation on the cheap. So people not familiar with pools in poor shape may suddenly come face-to-face with one that comes complete with amoebas. Beware."
  • Skip the hot springs. "People love swimming and exploring places they happen upon --like hot springs," she continues. "This may not be the best idea, given this CDC report."

"We don't want folks to panic, but it's important to be aware of the risks," Dr. Gwenn concludes. "With the rise of 'staycations,' many parents might not even know there is a risk that could be lurking in their own backyards."

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