Teen Dies From Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba After Swimming in a Lake

PHOTO: This photomicrograph of a brain tissue specimen magnified 500 percent depicts the cytoarchitectural changes associated with a free-living, Naegleria fowleri, amebic infection.PlayMedia for Medical/Getty Images
WATCH Teen Dies from Brain-Eating Amoeba After Lake Swim

A Minnesota teen has reportedly died due to a rare amoebic infection days after he went swimming in a freshwater lake.

Hunter Boutain, 14, died after developing symptoms consistent with an amoebic infection, according to a statement sent to ABC affiliate KSTP-TV by the boy's uncle, Bryan Boutain.

"Hunter's condition deteriorated throughout the night and he was declared brain dead this morning (Thursday). Hunter was surrounded by his family. It is a deeply emotional time for all of us," Bryan Boutain said in statement. "We ask for privacy and prayers as we remember our beloved Hunter."

The Minnesota Department of Health is still investigating the incident, though officials released a statement saying they believe the teen likely was infected with a rare amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.

The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is naturally occurring in fresh water and can cause a fatal infection if it travels up the nose of a swimmer where it can enter the brain. Amoebic infections are extremely rare, infecting up to eight people every year in the entire country, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In comparison, nearly 10 people are killed every day from drowning, CDC data shows.

Last August, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals announced that the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in the water system of St. John the Baptist Parish.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert, said concerned swimmers in freshwater can take precautions, such as using nose clips. Swimmers should also avoid disturbing sediment where the amoeba might be in greater numbers, he said.

"The amoeba are in small numbers everywhere," explained Schaffner, who pointed out it was impractical to avoid all freshwater. "They go hibernate in the winter time. They’re part of natural environment."

Symptoms

  • Severe frontal headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Altered mental status
  • Hallucinations

Treatment can include intravenous antibiotics or other medications. In at least one successful case, therapeutic hypothermia was used to manage the patient's brain swelling, according to the CDC. The disease, while rare, is almost always fatal. Just four people are known to have survived the disease in North America.

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