Nebraska child’s death possibly caused by amoeba infection from Elkhorn River

Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 5:36 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Douglas County health officials said Wednesday that they suspect a local child’s recent death was caused by a brain-eating amoeba from the Elkhorn River.

The CDC is working to confirm that the death was caused by primary amebic meningoencephalitis after the child went swimming in the river on Sunday.

In the meantime, the Douglas County Health Department is urging extra caution when coming into contact with freshwater sources like rivers, lakes, and streams.

Naegleria fowleri is present in many freshwater sources and is being identified further north as previously cooler regions become warmer and drier,” the DCHD release states.

A similar case led to the death of a Missouri resident who was likely infected while swimming in an Iowa lake last month.

As the single-celled organism tends to enter the body through the nose, health officials suggest keeping your head above water when swimming in rivers, lakes, and streams; or to plug your nose when swimming or diving — or simply avoid freshwaters in the later weeks of summer as water temperatures rise and water levels decline.

The health department also noted that people can be infected by drinking contaminated water.

Such infections, which are not spread from person to person, have been rare. According to the CDC, 31 infections have been reported in the U.S. between 2012 and 2021.

“Of those cases, 28 people were infected by recreational water, two people were infected after performing nasal irrigation using contaminated tap water, and one person was infected by contaminated tap water used on a backyard slip-n-slide,” the CDC website states.

But following the death of a Missouri man in Iowa last month, health officials noted that while infections may be rare, it’s usually fatal once the person is infected.

Symptoms — which typically occur within 12 days of an infection — can include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting, but can progress to stiffness in the neck, confusion, and seizures. In the worst cases, there are other neurological symptoms, but the health department noted that deaths from PAM have typically occurred within five days of infection.

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