Minnesota health officials are investigating a case of suspected primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) in a critically ill child. PAM is a very rare and severe brain infection caused by an ameba called Naegleria fowleri. Health officials determined that the child developed the infection after swimming at Lake Minnewaska in Pope County.
Naegleria fowleri is an ameba commonly found in freshwater and soil all over the world. In rare cases, the organism can infect people by entering the body through the nose. Generally, this occurs when people get water up their nose from activities such as swimming and diving in warm freshwater.
While Naegleria infections can occur anywhere, they are more common in warm southern states. Thirty-five cases were reported in the United States from 2005 through 2014, including single cases in Minnesota in 2010 and 2012. Both Minnesota cases were linked to a lake in Washington County. Prior to the confirmation of the 2010 Minnesota case, the infection had not been detected north of Missouri.
According to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Waterborne Diseases Unit Supervisor Trisha Robinson, there are a few tips that may help reduce the risk of infection when using any lake, river or other freshwater body.
“There is a low-level risk of infection from Naegleria in any freshwater,” Robinson said. “While the only sure way to prevent PAM is to avoid participation in freshwater-related activities, you can reduce your risk by keeping your head out of the water, using nose clips or holding the nose shut, and avoiding stirring up sediment at the bottom of shallow freshwater areas.”