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Child in Nebraska dies from suspected ‘brain-eating amoeba’ infection

If confirmed, the child would be the first known death from "brain-eating amoeba" in Nebraska history, officials said.
Elkhorn River in Nebraska
A child died from a suspected case of brain-eating amoeba that officials believe was contracted by swimming in the Elkhorn River in Nebraska (above).Larry Mayer / Getty Images

A child died this week from a suspected case of "brain-eating amoeba" that would be the first known death from Naegleria fowleri in Nebraska history if confirmed, state health officials said Wednesday.

The child, whose age was not released, possibly became infected by Naegleria fowleri, an organism known as "brain-eating amoeba," while swimming in the Elkhorn River on Sunday, according to a news release by the Douglas County Health Department.

The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, canals and ponds. It causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), an extremely rare brain infection that is nearly always fatal, according to a news release by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Death occurs in 97% of cases within five days of symptoms beginning, officials said. Zero to eight infections are identified in the country each year, primarily in summer, according to Nebraska state epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Donahue.

People can become infected when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose while swimming or diving, officials said. A person cannot be infected by drinking water contaminated with the amoeba or through person-to-person contact.

Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea or vomiting, and can progress to stiff neck, confusion and seizures. The symptoms usually begin one to 12 days after infection.

Douglas County health officials urge local residents to take precautions like plugging their noses while in the water, avoiding submerging the head and avoiding stirring up sediment or going into freshwater sources at all during late summer weeks. Activities like water skiing or high speed tubing increase the risk of infection, officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting further tests to confirm the Nebraska case.

The suspected Nebraska case comes after a 13-year-old Florida boy was hospitalized last month from a case of Naegleria fowleri after visiting a beach in Port Charlotte, Florida.

Caleb Ziegelbauer has been hospitalized for 40 days but has continued a surprising recovery after doctors initially told his family he had four days to live, according to an update on Wednesday on a GoFundMe page for the family.