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Officials with the Southern Nevada Health District have reported a death in a Clark County resident due to the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri. The patient was a male, under the age of 18.

Image/Robert Herriman

Based on health official’s investigation, the individual may have been exposed at Lake Mead on the Arizona side of the lake at the beginning of October and began to develop symptoms approximately a week later.

Dr. Fermin Leguen, District Health Officer for the Health District said, “While I want to reassure the public that this type of infection is an extremely rare occurrence, I know this brings no comfort to his family and friends at this time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the Health District that Naegleria fowleri was confirmed as the cause of the patient’s illness. Infection with the amoeba causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that initially includes headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting and progresses to stiff neck, seizures and coma that can lead to death. Symptoms usually begin about five days after infection but can start within 1 to 12 days. Once symptoms start, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about five days.

Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes and rivers, and geothermal water, such as hot springs. The amoeba infects people by entering the body through the nose and traveling to the brain. It cannot infect people if swallowed and is not spread from person to person. The infection is extremely rare, and almost always fatal.

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Recommended precautions from the CDC include:

  • Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm fresh water, especially during the summer.
  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when in bodies of warm fresh water.
  • Avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs and other untreated geothermal waters.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment in shallow warm fresh water.

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