Child dies from suspected case of brain-eating amoeba in Nebraska, the state’s first 

The child may have contracted the infection while swimming in a river.

A child in Nebraska is suspected to have died from a rare case of brain-eating amoeba, health officials said Wednesday.

If confirmed, it will be the first known death from Naegleria fowleri in the state’s history, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The child may have contracted the infection while swimming in Nebraska’s Elkhorn River on Sunday. The child became ill soon after and died this week, according to the Douglas County Health Department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting further testing to confirm.

Naegleria fowleri is a rare but deadly amoeba that lives in warm freshwater, such as lakes, ponds, rivers and hot springs. The single-celled organism can infect people when water containing the amoeba travels up the nose and reaches the brain, usually while swimming or diving. People do not become infected from drinking contaminated water or swimming in a pool that is properly chlorinated, according to the CDC.

“Naegleria fowleri becomes more prevalent as temperatures rise in freshwater lakes and rivers. Most U.S. cases have been found in Southern states, and in the height of summer. Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels,” according to the CDC.

The fatality rate for Naegleria fowleri infections is over 97%. Only four out of 154 known-infected individuals in the United States have survived since the amoeba was first identified in the 1960s, according to the CDC.

This computer illustration shows Naegleria fowleri amoeba in cerebrospinal fluid.

“The rise in cases in the Midwest region after 2010 and increases in maximum and median latitudes of PAM case exposures suggest a northward expansion of N. fowleri exposures,” the study said.  Climate change could be the culprit, according to Julia Haston, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. Cases have been diagnosed as far north as Minnesota and Maryland, a “red flag” that “should signal to people that a problem is brewing,

Where Naegleria fowleri infections occur in the United States is changing. In 2010, the first Naegleria infection was reported from Minnesota, 600 miles farther north than any previously reported case. We are seeing a statistically significant northward trend in the latitude of water exposures among U.S. recreational water-associated cases.”

Cope said N. fowleri is a “thermophilic organism,” meaning it thrives in heat and likes warm water. … . “Climate change can potentially be a factor as we know that Naegleria grow and live in warm freshwater environments, but we don’t know to what extent,” she said.

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