Officials: Brain-Eating Amoeba Likely Killed Nebraska Boy

Warming waters may be helping parasite spread in Midwest
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 19, 2022 4:20 AM CDT
Brain-Eating Amoeba Suspected Cause of Nebraska Boy's Death
The Elkhorn River on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Omaha, Neb.   (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

(Newser) – A child likely died from a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in an eastern Nebraska river, health officials said. It's the second such probable death in the Midwest this summer and one that raises the question of whether climate change is playing 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, the AP reports. 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. A Florida boy with a suspected infection has been hospitalized for weeks. People are usually infected when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose while swimming or diving into lakes and rivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says infections are rare—there are about three cases in the United States every year—but they are overwhelmingly fatal. There were 154 cases reported between 1962 and 2021 in the US, with only four survivors, according to the CDC. Of those, 71 cases were reported between 2000 and 2021.

The amoeba is typically found in southern states because it thrives in waters that are warmer than 86 degrees Fahrenheit. But infections have migrated north in recent years, including two cases in Minnesota since 2010, Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsey Huse noted during a news conference Thursday. "Our regions are becoming warmer,” she said. "As things warm up, the water warms up and water levels drop because of drought, you see that this organism is a lot happier and more typically grows in those situations." Health officials recommend that freshwater swimmers plug their noses, avoid putting their heads underwater and avoid activities such as water skiing and tubing, which could force water into the nose, eyes, or mouth.

(Read more brain-eating amoeba stories.)

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