A 19-year-old girl died last month after swimming in a stream that flows from Pennsylvania to Maryland and health officials are concerned the cause of death is a rare brain-eating amoeba.
It is likely the same type of Naegleria fowleri amoeba killed an Ohio teen at an artificial water rapids course in June in North Carolina where Olympic kayakers train.
The teen in the August case was on vacation from New York and was infected while swimming in Cecil County, Maryland. Family members said she swam in two areas — Octoraro Creek and North East Creek. Octoraro Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, forms the border between Lancaster and Chester Counties. It winds through Cecil County, Maryland, before joining with the Susquehanna River. The North East Creek, which lies entirely in Maryland, flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection is rare, but devastating, causing a condition called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The ameba is commonly found in soil and in warm, freshwater, such as lakes, rivers and hot springs. Naegleria fowleri usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the ameba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM, which is almost always fatal. A swimmer cannot be infected by swallowing water and it cannot be spread from person to person.
Very little can be done to prevent infection of the brain-eating amoeba, according to health officials who suggest wearing nose plugs when swimming in freshwater.
In very rare instances, Naegleria fowleri infections may also occur in contaminated water from other sources, such as heated and contaminated tap water or inadequately chlorinated swimming pools.
That is what happened in July when an 18-year-old woman from Ohio died after being infected at the nonprofit U.S. National Whitewater Center near Charlotte, N.C. The chlorination and filtration systems at the artificial water rapids course were inadequate to kill the amoeba.
The rushing water channels had become so murky with debris that the chlorine and ultraviolet light that might have killed the Naegleria fowleri amoeba did not work. The whitewater center closed in late June so the fast-water channels could be drained, dried and scrubbed to kill any vestiges of the amoeba. American Olympians had not used the Charlotte course in the weeks leading up to the Naegleria fowleri infection because the athletes were competing and training in Europe before the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Those infected with Naegleria fowleri experience headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting before having seizures, hallucinations and becoming comatose. After symptoms start, amebic meningoencephalitis causes death within about five days. Only 138 people nationwide have been stricken by the disease between 1962 and 2015, according to the CDC. Of those, only a handful of patients has survived. Florida and Texas have had the most cases with 34 each in that time. North Carolina has had five cases, none of them previously involving the whitewater center. Thirty-two states have never had a recorded case. All five cases in 2015 were fatal. California, Oklahoma and Arizona each reported one case; Texas had two.
If you have been sickened by contaminated water or if a loved one has died as a result, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 1-800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
About the Author