Kansas Resident Dies From Brain-Eating Amoeba After Swimming in Warm Lake

Officials warn against swimming in heated, stagnant bodies of water.

ByABC News
September 10, 2011, 3:55 PM

Sept. 10, 2011 — -- A Kansas resident died last week from what was likely a rare infection by a brain-eating amoeba, after swimming in a lake in August, according to state health officials.

It is the fourth death this summer linked to the parasite, which is found in stagnant warm water.

The person likely picked up the infection while swimming in Winfield City Lake in Cowley County, ABC affiliate KAKE-TV in Wichita reported..

The Sedgwick County resident entered the hospital on Aug. 19 with headaches and developed breathing problems, and died five days later, according to the Kansas City Star reported.

Notices have been posted at the Winfield lake office and the swimming area, Winfield City Manager Warren Porter told the Star. Residents have been warned not to swim in bodies of water that have been heated by a nuclear power plant, or dig up sediment in such places, according to the Star.

The brain-eating amoeba, also known as the parasite Naegleria, enters through the nose, travels through the sinuses and infects the brain and cerebrospinal fluid.

Though this parasite is very rare, it tends to grow in stagnant, fresh water during high summer temperatures, Barry Inman, an epidemiologist at the Brevard County, Fla., Health Department, told ABCnews.com.

The Kansas victim is the first person to have died from a brain-eating amoeba infection in Kansas, but since the early 1960s, about 120 cases of brain-eating amoeba infections have been reported, nearly all of which were fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Two children in Virginia and Florida died this August from the deadly parasite. Another death was reported in Louisiana.

Bonnie Strickland, the aunt of 9-year-old Christian Alexander Strickland, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that her nephew died Aug. 5 from amoebic meningoencephalitis, a deadly parasitic infection that attacks the brain and spine, after attending a Virginia fishing camp.

"The doctor described it to us as such a slight chance that they didn't even think it would be possible," Strickland told the newspaper.

"Sadly, we have had a Naegleria infection in Virginia this summer," Dr. Keri Hall, state epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health, said in a statement. "It's important that people be aware of...safe swimming messages."

A week after Christian's fishing camp, he began experiencing the telltale symptoms of the parasitic infection-turned-meningitis: headache, stiffness, fever and nausea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also confirmed that a 16-year-old Floridan Courtney Nash died from the parasitic illness, after swimming with her cousins in St. John's river. Within a week, she began experiencing the same symptoms as Christian did, Inman said.

"She was out swimming ... in the St. John's River, having fun like any other kids would in the water," Nash's uncle, Tom Uzel, said. Nash and her family had swum in that river all their lives.

One in 10 Million Chance of Contracting Illness

Though chances of contracting this parasite are about one in 10 million, said Inman, people should be aware that there is some risk in swimming in certain freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers.

"We have signs up in public freshwaters," Inman said. "All we can do is inform people that the organism is there. It's going to proliferate and grow, especially in the hot months. There are nose clips people can wear to reduce risk, but someone who doesn't want any risk needs to stay out of freshwater ponds and streams, especially those that are stagnant."

Inman said that anyone suffering from the symptoms of this parasitic infection -- fever, nausea, stiff neck and a frontal headache -- should seek medical attention.