Mono County, California health officials are reporting a death of a child who contracted the “brain-eating amoeba”, Naegleria fowleri.

According to a KOLO 8 report, The child who died last weekend, only described as being from Southern California, suffered a rare infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and tested positive for Naegleria fowleri.

Naegleria fowleri Image/CDC
Naegleria fowleri

The child’s only known water exposure appears to be at one of the natural water ponds at Hot Ditch, a popular hot springs soaking area south of Bishop.

Several years ago, a 21 year old Bishop resident also died from the rare parasitic infection.

Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic amoeba which is a single-celled living organism. The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, ponds and canals.

Humans become infected when water containing Naegleria fowleri enters the nose, usually while swimming or diving. People DO NOT get infected by DRINKING contaminated water.

The amoeba migrates to the brain along the olfactory nerve in the nose, through a bony plate in the skull called the cribiform plate, where it reaches the brain and begins to destroy brain tissue. The amoeba has never been shown to have spread from one person to another.

Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels.

Naegleria fowleri infections are rare. Most  infections occur from exposure to contaminated recreational water. Cases due to the use of neti pots and the practice of ablution have been documented.

Neti pots, Naegleria and you

Initial symptoms of PAM usually start within 1 to 7 days after infection. The initial symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Other symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly.

Only four people out of 143 infected in the United States between 1962 and 2017 have survived, according to the CDC.