KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Missouri resident with a laboratory-confirmed infection of Naegleria fowleri has died, according to officials with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Friday.
Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as “brain-eating amoeba,” is a microscopic single-celled free-living ameba that can cause a rare life-threatening infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
Health officials say while the occurrence of Naegleria fowleri infection is extremely rare, once infected it is usually deadly.
Of the 154 known cases of PAM in the United States over the past 60 years, only four have survived.
This is Missouri’s first case since 1987.
A case of PAM in Kansas was reported back in 2014 in which 9-year-old Hally Yust, of Spring Hill died from the infection.
“Because these cases are so incredibly rare and out of respect for the family, we do not intend to release additional information about the patient which could lead to the person’s identification,” the health department said.
The ameba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, and ponds.
The Iowa Department of Public Health shut down the beach at Lake of Three Fires, which is just north of Bedford, Iowa, about 15 miles from the state’s southern border with Missouri.
Health officials said the Missouri patient recently swam at the beach and later became sick with Naegleria fowleri. Water samples are being taken at the lake to test for the amoeba.
Although a rare occurrence, people become infected by Naegleria fowleri when water containing the ameba enters the body through the nose from freshwater sources.
The Naegleria fowleri ameba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue. This infection cannot be spread from one person to another, and it cannot be contracted by swallowing contaminated water.
People can take actions to reduce the risk of infection by limiting the amount of water going up the nose.
These actions could include:
• Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
• Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
• Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high-water temperature.
• Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
Those who experience the following symptoms after swimming in any warm body of water should contact their health care provider immediately as the disease progresses rapidly:
• Severe headache.
• Stiff neck.
• Altered mental status.