Based on an investigation conducted by the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), it is believed the individual — a boy under the age of 18 — was exposed to the amoeba at Lake Mead, on the Arizona side, near the beginning of October, and began to develop symptoms roughly a week later.
Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, and geothermal water, like hot springs, SNHD officials said in a news release. The amoeba infects people by entering the body through the nose and traveling to the brain. It cannot infect people if swallowed, and it is not spread from person to person.
Health officials stress that infection is extremely rare, however it is almost always fatal.
“My condolences go out to the family of this young man,” Dr. Fermin Leguen, district health officer for the health district, said in a statement. “While I want to reassure the public that this type of infection is an extremely rare occurrence, I know this brings no comfort to his family and friends at this time.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified the health district that the amoeba was, in fact, the cause of boy’s death. The health district said infection with the amoeba causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that initially includes headache, fever, nausea or vomiting, and progresses to a stiff neck, seizures, and coma that can lead to death.
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The CDC included the following precautions:
- Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm freshwater, especially during the summer.
- Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when in bodies of warm fresh water.
- Avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs and other untreated geothermal waters.
- Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment in shallow warm fresh water.
The CDC confirmed the amoeba is naturally occurring, and there is no routine test for Naegleria fowleri.
Per a statement released by Lake Mead officials, the lake will remain open for swimming and recreation.
“The National Park Service, working with the NPS Office of Public Health, has made the decision to continue to allow recreational swimming at Lake Mead National Recreation as the organism exists naturally and commonly in the environment but disease is extremely rare,” said Dr. Maria Said, U.S Public Health Service Officer. “However, recreational water users should always assume there is a risk anytime they enter warm fresh water.”