Nebraska state health officials report a resident is suspected to have died from infection with Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as a brain-eating amoeba. The resident most likely acquired the infection while swimming in the Elkhorn River, shortly before illness. If confirmed, it is the first known death from Naegleria fowleri in Nebraska’s history.
“Millions of recreational water exposures occur each year, while only 0 to 8 Naegleria fowleri infections are identified each year. Infections typically occur later in the summer, in warmer water with slower flow, in July, August, and September. Cases are more frequently identified in southern states but more recently have been identified farther north. Limiting the opportunities for freshwater to get into the nose are the best ways to reduce the risk of infection,” said State Epidemiologist, Dr. Matthew Donahue.
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that is commonly found in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, canals, and ponds throughout the United States. It can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that may result when water containing the amoeba rushes up the nose and reaches the brain. The infection is extremely rare, but nearly always fatal.
From 1962 to 2021, the CDC reports 154 case-reports of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis Caused by Naegleria fowleri in the United States, with only four survivors (one in 1978, two in 2013 and one in 2016).
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) lists some other information and preventative measures:
- Naegleria fowleri usually occurs when temperatures increase for prolonged periods, resulting in higher water temperatures and lower water levels. Use caution when engaging in water-related activities in warm freshwater during these times.
- Behaviors associated with the infection include diving or jumping into the water, submerging the head underwater, or engaging in other water-related activities that cause water to go up the nose forcefully.
- Swimmers can reduce their risk by keeping their heads out of the water and using nose clips or plugging their noses when going underwater. Swimmers should also avoid digging or stirring up the sediment at the bottom of the lake or river.
- People can’t get infected by swimming in a pool that has been properly cleaned and is maintained and disinfected. They also can’t get it from drinking contaminated water.
- Avoid submersing your head in hot springs and other untreated thermal water.
- Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.