DEARING, Ga. (WJBF) — A Georgia teenager has died from a rare brain infection caused by an amoeba, health officials have confirmed.
Megan Ebenroth, 17, was believed to have been infected while swimming in a freshwater lake or pond, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The infection was caused by Naegleria Fowleri, an amoeba that lives in soil and warm, freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, and hot springs, the agency explained.
Naegleria Fowleri can cause a brain infection, primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), when water containing the amoeba goes up the nose. It can destroy brain tissue, cause brain swelling, and, in many cases, be fatal.
Ebenroth, who was set to begin her senior year at Thomson High School this week, died on July 22. While few additional details have been released, the McDuffie County Coroner’s Office said she spent a few days in the hospital after the incident. Her cause of death has been ruled a rare brain infection.
Dr. Ingrid Camelo, Augusta University Associate Professor of Pediatrics Infectious Diseases, said the brain-eating amoeba is typically a problem in the South where temperatures are warmer. Experts have warned the warming climate may only exacerbate the problem.
Only a handful of those that become infected survive, according to Dr. Camelo — it carries a 90% death rate. The brain infection can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms so closely resemble bacterial meningitis: headache, fever, neck stiffness, and later, seizures.
With an infection, a quick diagnosis is crucial. Dr. Camelo explained that a combination therapy with at least four medications is needed within hours.
It’s not clear what treatment Ebenroth received. Her family declined to say where their daughter was swimming while speaking with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, explaining only that none of her friends who went swimming became ill. State health officials also declined to name the body of water, explaining the amoeba “may not be there today” and that the agency would “run the risk of giving a false sense of security that it is only that particular body of water, when it could be anywhere.”
A GoFundMe was established by the Belle Meade Country Club, which employs Ebenroth’s boyfriend, Seth Adams, to help with funeral expenses.
Cart boys at the club, who have a golf tournament amongst themselves annually, elected to donate the money they would have played for to Ebenroth’s family instead, Jake Bennett, one of the cart boys, told News 2’s sister station, WJBF.
“I know, from the few interactions that I had with her, she was a very nice person, very sweet, very kind. If Seth was dating her, she had to be a good person,” Bennett said, adding that between the tournament pool and cash donations, $5,000 had been raised.