'Extremely rare' brain-eating amoeba infection suspected in Nebraska child's death

·3 min read

A Nebraska child has died from a suspected infection of Naegleria fowleri, or brain-eating amoeba, local health officials said.

The child was most likely infected while swimming in Elkhorn River near Omaha, according to Nebraska's Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, the case would be the first known death from brain-eating amoeba in the state's history.

The Douglas County Health Department said Wednesday that the child died this week and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting further testing to confirm the rare infection.

"We can only imagine the devastation this family must be feeling, and our deepest condolences are with them," Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse said in a statement Wednesday. "We can honor the memory of this child by becoming educated about the risk and then taking steps to prevent infection."

Swimming in freshwater? Here's what to know about the rare brain-eating Naegleria fowleri.

Where are brain-eating amoebas found?

According to Nebraska's health department, Naegleria fowleri is a type of amoeba that can be found throughout the U.S., particularly Southern states – in warm freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers.

"Infections typically occur later in the summer, in warmer water with slower flow, in July, August and September. Cases are more frequently identified in Southern states but more recently have been identified farther north," Nebraska's state epidemiologist, Dr. Matthew Donahue, said in a statement.

How dangerous are brain-eating amoebas?

When water containing the amoeba enters the nose and reaches the brain, primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection, can result.

An infection of the brain-eating amoeba is "extremely rare but nearly always fatal," the state agency says. Douglas County Health notes that 97% of cases lead to death within about five days of symptoms appearing.

Missouri: Rare brain-eating infection found in Missouri patient; here's how to protect yourself

How rare are brain-eating amoebas?

“Millions of recreational water exposures occur each year, while only 0 to 8 Naegleria fowleri infections are identified each year," Donahue said in the statement.

There have been 154 known PAM infections caused by Naegleria fowleri in the U.S. between 1962 and 2021, according to CDC. Only four of the infected survived.

What's everyone talking about? Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day

What are the symptoms of Naegleria fowleri?

Naegleria fowleri infection symptoms can start with fever, nausea and headaches, according to the CDC. That may progress to stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations and coma.

How to avoid brain-eating amoebas

The best way to avoid a Naegleria fowleri infection is to avoid swimming and other activities in warm freshwater, the CDC says. If going underwater, plug your nose or avoid ducking your head into the water altogether.

Infections will not occur in swimming pools that have been properly cleaned and disinfected. Naegleria fowleri also doesn't spread from person to person or by drinking contaminated water – the infection occurs only when water containing amoeba enters the nose, Nebraska's health department and Douglas County Health note.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brain-eating amoeba suspected in Nebraska child's death, officials say