A 10-year-old girl who contracted a brain eating amoeba in central Texas has died.
The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed the girl had primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a brain infection caused by the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri, according to news station KWTX-TV.
Brain-eating amoeba infections are rare, according to Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP, a subspecialist in infectious disease. About eight cases occur on average each year in the US, she says. Although rare it is extremely serious, with the disease being fatal 99% of the time.
As of April, Texas led the nation in total reported infections with 36, according to the CDC.
The amoeba mainly affects young, healthy, active people, especially children between 10-14 years old, and usually during hot summer months, Dr. Gompf says. She adds that the amoeba usually finds conditions most favorable during summer.
Infection is usually caused by exposure to untreated sources of fresh water, such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and drainage ditches, as well as hot springs, water heaters, hose water, and poorly chlorinated swimming pools and water parks, Dr. Gompf says. Some activities that pose greater risks allow water to rush up one's nose, include "submerging the head, jumping feet first, diving, and sports that pull a person behind a boat, like wakeboarding, tubing, and water skiing."
Once inside the nose, the amoeba produces enzymes that digest mucus and protein, Dr. Gompf says. She said N. fowleri is attracted to nerve cells, and follows the nerves responsible for smelling (olfactory nerves) through skull openings into the base of the brain. Death comes from brain tissue swelling.
To prevent brain eating amoeba infection, Dr. Gompf recommends avoiding freshwater play during hot summer months. But for those who insist on swimming, the doctor suggests nose clips for keeping water out of your nose.
If you are uncertain whether your swimming pool has been properly treated with chlorine, Dr. Gompf suggests testing it yourself using a pool test strip. These can be ordered free of charge from the Water Quality & Health Council at waterandhealth.org.