Deadly Parasite Thought to Be Culprit in Fla. Teen's Death

Courtney Nash, 16, died after contracting a parasite in a Fla. river.

ByABC News
August 15, 2011, 10:58 AM

Aug. 15, 2011— -- A deadly brain parasite contracted during a swim in a local river is thought to be the culprit behind the sudden and tragic death of 16-year-old Florida teen, Courtney Nash.

Nash had gone for a swim Aug. 3 with her cousins in St. John's river and within a week began suffering from headache, stiffness, fever, and nausea -- all telltale signs of amoebic meningoencephalitis, a parasitic infection that attacks the brain and spine, Barry Inman, an epidemiologist with the Brevard County Health Department told The parasite enters through the nose and then travels through the sinuses and infects the brain and cerebrospinal fluid. Though this parasite is very rare, it tends to grow more in stagnant, fresh water during high summer temperatures, Inman said.

Nash was taken initially to a local hospital and then to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, but despite every attempt at treatment, she died Saturday afternoon.

Doctors at Arnold Palmer identified the amoeba Naegleria fowleri in her system before her death and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that this was in fact the infection that killed her.

Nash's is only the third case of amoebic meningoencephalitis in Brevard County since 1985, Inman said. Nationwide, there are usually one to three cases each year of this rare and dangerous parasitic infection. Only one person has survived the infection since the 1970s, he added.

"She was out the St. John's River, having fun like any other kids would in the water," Nash's uncle Tom Uzel said at a press conference Monday morning. Nash and her siblings and cousins had swum in that river all their lives.