ARLINGTON, Texas (NEXSTAR) – A child has died after being infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba that was found on a wading pool in Texas.
Arlington officials said Monday that the City and County of Tarrant County Public Health were informed on September 5 that a child had been hospitalized with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and often fatal infection. The boy died on September 11.
Health officials have closed all public fountains in the city. A city review found deficiencies in water quality testing at several parks.
The boy had been to Don Misenhimer Park water park several times in recent weeks and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the presence of the amoeba. N. fowleri in the park’s water samples on Friday.
Infection N. fowleri usually occurs after the body enters the nasal cavity and passes through the epithelial lining in the brain, where it begins to destroy frontal lobe tissue, explains Dr Dennis Kyle, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Cell Biology at the University of Georgia and University Chair in Antiparasitic Drug Discovery with the Georgia Research Alliance.
This brain infection, known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), can lead to symptoms like fever, headache, stiff neck, seizures, and hallucinations, among others. These symptoms usually begin within five to nine days of exposure. Death typically occurs within five days, according to the CDC.
The CDC is currently classifying N. fowleri infections as rare, with only 34 cases reported in the United States between 2010 and 2019. Of these, the vast majority (30) were infected during recreational water activities, while others were infected using contaminated tap water for nasal irrigation, or, in one case, on a “backyard slide and slide.”
Despite the relatively low number of cases, Kyle says researchers – and especially the families of those who have died from brain-eating amoebic infection – generally don’t like the term “rare.”
“It’s something that is found in every hot water lake in the South, so it’s there,” says Kyle, who adds that science doesn’t really know why more people aren’t infected. He further notes that any warm freshwater body can harbor amoebae, citing two cases of N. fowleri in Minnesota in 2010 and 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.