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Death of Nebraska child linked to brain-eating amoeba that kills 97% of people it infects


The death of a Nebraska baby has been linked to the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which has killed nearly every person it infects.

The unnamed child is believed to have caught the infection while swimming in the Elkhorn River, which flows through the Omaha, Nebraska area. Officials revealed he died in Douglas County, which includes the state’s largest city. If confirmed, this would be the first recorded case of a brain-eating amoeba infection in the Cornhusker State.

Cerebral amoebic infections are rare but incredibly deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 154 cases from 1962 to 2021, with three more so far this summer. Only four Americans survived the infection.

Experts warn that the creatures are most active in the summer months when the temperature starts to warm. They are found in lakes and rivers across America, although they can also hide in swimming pools and parks that do not have proper sanitation practices.

“Millions of recreational aquatic exposures occur each year, while only 0 to 8 Naegleria fowleri infections are identified each year,” Dr. Matthew Donahue, Nebraska state epidemiologist, said in a statement.

“Infections usually occur later in the summer, in warmer, slower-flowing waters, in July, August and September.

“Cases are more often identified in southern states, but recently they have been identified further north. Limiting the opportunities for fresh water to enter the nose is the best way to reduce the risk of infection.”

It was not revealed in which part of the Elkhorn River — which flows from near Bassett, Nebraska in the northern part of the state down to the southeastern part of the state where it joins the Platte River near Omaha — the child contracted the infection.

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Florida student, 22, who survived brain-eating amoeba had to relearn how to walk and write after the disease damaged his brain

A Florida student was unable to walk up stairs and write after a deadly brain-eating amoeba he caught “cannonballing” into a stagnant pond left him underweight and brain damaged.

Sebastian Deleon, now 22, of Weston, is one of four lucky survivors of an amoeba infection — called Naegleria fowleri — out of 154 reported cases in the United States. He became infected six years ago at the age of 16.

In the early stages, he was knocked down by a severe headache that felt like a smooth rock was “pressing” on his head. It quickly left him unable to stand up and needing sunglasses “even when the sun wasn’t shining”, prompting his parents to rush him to the hospital.

Once the doctors put him on seven antibiotics and he fell into a coma. When he came back after about a week, he needed about three weeks of rehab to regain a lot of strength.

Experts are urging Americans to be aware of the amoeba, which is lurking in waterways across the country, and say global warming — heating up stagnant pools further north in the country — is making it a risk in other areas.

Sebastian Deleon, now 22, from Weston, Florida, revealed his experience after catching a brain-eating amoeba - scientifically named Naegleria fowleri.  He said he initially had a severe headache before becoming sensitive to the sun and struggling to stand up.  He is one of four lucky survivors of the infection out of 154 known cases

Sebastian Deleon, now 22, from Weston, Florida, revealed his experience after catching a brain-eating amoeba – scientifically named Naegleria fowleri. He said he initially had a severe headache before becoming sensitive to the sun and struggling to stand up. He is one of four lucky survivors of the infection out of 154 known cases

It’s the third confirmed case of the brain-eating amoeba in America this year. On July 6, a Missouri man caught the amoeba after swimming in the Lake of Three Fires in southwest Iowa. He later died on July 18.

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The second case was identified in Caleb Ziegelbauer, 13, of Port Charlotte, Florida. He became infected after swimming in a river near his home.

Ziegelbauer is still alive – he has long survived the two-week period when a person usually dies after being infected.

The teenager is still in hospital battling an infection but has recently been off the ventilator for a while as his condition improves.

Dr Anjan Debnath, an expert in parasitic diseases at the University of California, San Diego, told last month that because it is rare, doctors also often misdiagnose the symptoms as meningitis, wasting valuable time that could be used to treat the parasite.

This was the case with Ziegelbauer, where a misdiagnosis wasted valuable time early in his infection.

Debnath said the amoeba thrives in temperatures around 115 Fahrenheit, meaning it will be most active on the hottest days of summer in states where high temperatures are not uncommon.

He explained that it enters through the olfactory nerve of the nose, which gives it a short and direct route to the brain. If water containing amoeba gets into the nose, it is likely to lead to infection.

However, ingesting the water by mouth is fine because the stomach acid is strong enough to kill the amoeba.

Once a person’s olfactory nerve is exposed, it can take approximately one to nine days for them to experience symptoms. They usually die within five days of the first symptoms.

“It’s quite fast, it’s very progressive. It literally eats the brain tissue,” explained Debnath.

He describes the infection as occurring in two phases. The first is relatively minor, with the person experiencing headaches and other flu-like symptoms. This means that unless a doctor is aware that a person has been swimming in untreated water, they may not even suspect an amoeba.

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Once symptoms reach the second stage, a person begins to experience severe neurological problems such as seizures. The doctor will then likely detect the infection using a spinal fluid test.

At this point, the person has probably already experienced symptoms so severe that death is almost guaranteed.

While these cases are rare, with an average of less than three detected per year, Debnath still advises against swimming in untreated water in the summer, especially in places like Florida and Texas where temperatures are extremely hot.

Because the amoeba lives only in fresh water, swimming in the ocean is generally safe.

If families choose to visit a freshwater beach, anyone entering the water should wear a nose clip to keep water out of the nose.

Debnath also advises against digging up dirt or sand from the bottom of the lake, as there are warmer areas deep down where microscopic creatures usually lie.

Cases are not always born from freshwater lakes and rivers. In 2020, a six-year-old boy in Texas died after being exposed to water in his hometown of Lake Jackson.

Last year, a three-year-old child in the state died after being exposed to a brain-eating amoeba at a splash park. His family later sued for negligence, saying the operators should have taken better care of disinfecting the water.

A North Carolina child, whose age was not released, died last year after being exposed in an improperly disinfected private pond.

Debnath said these cases could be prevented by proper chlorination and sanitation of the sitting water itself.

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