9-year-old girl dies from infection caused by freshwater amoeba

7/13/2014

By Shelby Reynolds

By Shelby Reynolds

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) — A Johnson County resident was the victim of a fatal infection from a rare amoeba found in freshwater rivers and lakes, according to a news release Friday from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

This is the second reported case of the primary amoebic meningoencephalitis in Kansas, the release said. The first case in 2011 was also fatal, said Sara Belfry, a spokeswoman with the Department of Health and Environment.

It is unknown which body of water the Johnson County resident contracted the infection from, Belfry said, because there were multiple places and times that the patient was in fresh water.

More than 130 cases have been reported in the U.S. between 1962 and 2013, the release said. Infection-causing PAM is rare, so Kansans should not fear going to area lakes and ponds for swimming, said Charles Hunt, a state epidemiologist.

"If you think about the thousands and thousands of people that visit lakes in Kansas this year that are potentially exposed, it just is a very rare event," Hunt said. "Having said that, there are some common sense preventions that are appropriate."

Swimmers should use nose clips and avoid swallowing water while swimming, Hunt said. The release advised to stay away from bodies of water with warm temperatures and avoid kicking up sediment, which could be swallowed.

The amoebic parasite travels through a person's sinus cavities and infects the blood stream and central nervous system, Hunt said. Symptoms of PAM include severe headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, hallucinations and seizures.

Symptoms usually appear five days after infection; it cannot spread from person to person, the release said.

There are some experimental treatments for the infection, but "there just isn't a lot of experience with it," Hunt said.

For more information on healthy swimming, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov/healthyswimming.

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