August 7, 2012
Health officials investigate death due to suspected amebic infection
The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating the death of an elementary school aged child due to suspected primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a very rare form of meningitis caused by an amoeba associated with warm freshwater. Confirmation will be made with the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The organism is known as Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater and soil. It causes a very rare but severe brain infection and is nearly always fatal. The organism infects people by entering the body through the nose. Generally, this occurs when people use warm freshwater for activities such as swimming and diving.
Infections are very rare, even though Naegleria is commonly found in freshwater all over the world. While it can occur anywhere, infection with Naegleria usually occurs in warm southern states in the United States. Forty cases were reported in the United States from 2001 through 2011. The only previously confirmed case of this infection in Minnesota was reported in August of 2010.
Health officials acknowledged that the child had gone swimming at multiple locations in Washington County in the 2 weeks prior to illness onset, including Lily Lake in Stillwater. The previous Minnesota case’s likely source of infection was Lily Lake; Lily Lake has been closed to swimming until further notice.
“The risk of infection from Naegleria in Minnesota is very low," said Richard Danila, Assistant State Epidemiologist. “Swimming is a very healthy summertime activity and we do not want to discourage people from swimming. Rather, simply avoid swimming, diving or other activities in obviously stagnant water when temperatures are high and water levels are low,” Danila said.
Some additional precautions you can take while swimming during extremely warm periods include keeping your head out of the water, using nose clips or holding the nose shut, and avoid stirring up sediment at the bottom of shallow freshwater areas.
More information about Naegleria fowleri is available on the MDH website http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/naegleria/index.html.
Assistant State Epidemiologist