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Missouri resident dies after contracting 'brain-eating amoeba' in Iowa lake

The swimmer was infected with Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled organism that causes a disease that attacks the brain, health officials said.
Image: Image: Naegleria fowleri
Naegleria fowleri trophozoites as seen under a microscope in a patient with primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a disease of the central nervous system. CDC

A Missouri resident has died after being infected with a so-called “brain-eating amoeba” after swimming in the Lake of Three Fires in southern Iowa, health officials said.

The swimmer was exposed to a single-celled organism called Naegleria fowleri, Lisa Cox, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, told NBC News in an email. 

Cox confirmed that the swimmer died from primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a disease of the central nervous system that results from infection with Naegleria fowleri.

PAM is almost always fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only four people have survived out of the 154 known cases of PAM in the U.S. since 1978, the CDC says.

The beach at Lake of Three Fires was closed to swimmers on July 7 as a precaution after the Missouri resident’s infection was reported. At that time, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said in a release that officials were testing the lake for the presence of Naegleria fowleri. 

While infections with Naegleria fowleri are rare, the organisms can be found in warm freshwater lakes and rivers, as well as hot springs and poorly chlorinated swimming pools, according to the CDC. 

You can be infected if the amoeba enters the body through the nose. However, you cannot be infected by swallowing water contaminated with the single-celled organisms.

According to the CDC, symptoms of PAM can occur anywhere between one and nine days after being infected with Naegleria fowleri.

Early symptoms can include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, the CDC says, and can progress to more serious symptoms including a stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations and coma.

The Missouri swimmer’s death was first reported by the Des Moines Register. Officials are not releasing any information about the patient’s identity “out of respect for the family,” Cox said.