The Tarrant County Public Health and the City of Arlington were notified on September 5 that a child was hospitalized at Cook Children’s Medical Center with primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare and often fatal infection caused by the Naegleria fowleri ameba.
The child died at the hospital on Sept. 11.
A Tarrant County Public Health investigation determined two possible sources for the child’s exposure to water containing N. fowleri: the family’s home in Tarrant County or the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad in Arlington. On Sept. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of active N. fowleri ameba at the splash pad from water samples and determined the Arlington site was the likely source of the child’s exposure.
The City of Arlington closed the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad on Sept. 5, immediately following notification of the child’s illness, and proactively closed all public splash pads for the remainder of the year out of an abundance of caution.
Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, or PAM, is the disease caused by Naegleria fowleri, the amoeba that is found in almost all untreated, fresh surface water and in soil. The amoeba thrives in freshwater that is warmer than 80 degrees and stagnant or slow-moving.
PAM only infects people when water containing the amoeba enters through the nose, usually from diving or jumping into freshwater. The infection cannot be spread from person to person or by drinking contaminated water. The amoeba travels up the nose and makes its way into the brain along the olfactory nerve, destroying brain tissue.
Those infected with PAM will usually start showing symptoms about 5 days after the infection. It can often be mistaken for the flu or bacterial meningitis, as early symptoms include headache, fever, nausea or vomiting and can then progress to loss of balance, a stiff neck, seizures and hallucinations. The disease progresses quickly once the symptoms start and usually causes death within two weeks of the initial infection.
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