LAS VEGAS, Nev. (KTNV) — A person in southern Nevada died after contracting a brain-eating amoeba.
The patient, a male under the age of 18, may have been exposed at Lake Mead, health authorities said.
According to the Southern Nevada Health District, the individual was at the lake, on the Arizona side, at the beginning of October and began to develop symptoms approximately a week later.
"This amoeba is commonly found in warm surface water," said Bronson Mack, a spokesperson for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "We draw cool water deep within the lake, and our advanced treatment processes protect the community's drinking water from micro-organisms and contamination."
Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in bodies of warm freshwaters, 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.
“My condolences go out to the family of this young man,” said Dr. Fermin Leguen, District Health Officer for the Health District. “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.
According to officials, the amoeba is naturally occurring, and there is no routine test for Naegleria fowleri. Previous water testing has shown that it is regularly found in freshwater bodies and though the risk is low, recreational water users should always assume there is a risk when they enter warm fresh water.
Recommended precautions from the CDC include:
- Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm freshwater, 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.
This story was originally reported by Justine Verastigue on ktnv.com.