JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri resident has been diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening brain infection. It’s the first confirmed case in the state in 35 years, the Department of Health and Senior Services announced Thursday.
The resident, whom public health officials did not identify, is in an intensive care unit battling an infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). It’s caused by the brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri.
The amoeba lives in warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, and ponds. Health officials did not say where the resident was exposed to the amoeba, as they continue to investigate.
Since 1962, only 154 known cases have been identified in the United States. The only other case identified in a Missouri resident occurred in 1987, according to DHSS.
Although rare, people become infected by Naegleria fowleri when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. It then travels to the brain, where it destroys brain tissue. This infection cannot spread from one person to another, and it cannot be contracted by swallowing contaminated water.
“These situations are extremely rare in the United States and in Missouri specifically, but it’s important for people to know that the infection is a possibility so they can seek medical care in a timely manner if related symptoms present,” Dr. George Turabelidze, Missouri’s state epidemiologist, said in a statement.
Symptoms can include severe headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, altered mental state, and hallucinations. Anyone who experiences these symptoms after swimming in a warm body of water should contact their health care provider immediately.