A child in Nebraska is believed to have died from a rare case of brain-eating amoebae, health officials said Wednesday.
If confirmed, it will be the first known death of Naegleria fowleri in state history, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The child, a resident of Douglas County, which includes the city of Omaha, may have contracted the infection while swimming in Nebraska’s Elkhorn River on Sunday. The child fell ill shortly afterward and died this week, according to the Douglas County Health Department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting further tests to confirm this.
“We can only imagine the devastation this family must feel, and our deepest condolences are with them,” said Douglas County health director Dr. Lindsay Huse, in a statement Wednesday. “We can honor the memory of this child by being educated about the risk and then taking steps to prevent infection.”
Naegleria fowleri is a rare but deadly amoeba that lives in warm fresh water, such as lakes, ponds, rivers and hot springs. The single-celled organism can infect humans when water containing the amoeba passes through the nose and reaches the brain, usually while swimming or diving. According to the CDC, people don’t become infected by drinking contaminated water or swimming in a pool that has been properly chlorinated.
The mortality rate for Naegleria fowleri infections is over 97%. According to the CDC, only four of the 154 known infected individuals in the United States have survived since the amoeba was first identified in the 1960s.
Health officials in Nebraska are urging residents to take precautions as Naegleria fowleri is identified further north as previously cooler regions become warmer and drier.
“Infections usually occur later in the summer, in warmer waters with a slower flow, in July, August and September. Cases are more commonly identified in southern states, but more recently they have been identified further north,” Dr. Matthew Donahue, Nebraska’s state epidemiologist. , said in a statement Wednesday. “Limiting the possibilities for fresh water to get into the nose is the best way to reduce the risk of infection.”
Health officials advise people to avoid water-related activities in warm fresh water during periods of high water temperature and low water levels. People can reduce the risk of infection by keeping their heads out of the water and using nose clips or stuffing their noses when they go underwater. Swimmers should also avoid digging up or stirring the sediment at the bottom of the lake or river.
People should also only use sterile, distilled or lukewarm, previously boiled water for nasal irrigation or sinus rinses, health officials said.