On July 17, 2012, eight-year-old Blake Driggers of Sumter County, South Carolina died from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis after playing in water on a family weekend trip to the beach.
Friends of the Driggers’ say the young boy was complaining of fever, nausea, and headache after returning from a trip to the beach. A common response to a child suffering these symptoms is to believe they’ve been in the sun too long. That was the case in this situation as well.
On Sunday, July 15th Blake, who was a very energetic young boy had become very lethargic and his parents knew this was more than getting too much sun the past weekend. They took him to the hospital and were notified by the physicians that he was in serious condition.
Blake died on Tuesday, July 17. The next day an autopsy was performed on his body which revealed the cause of death as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri.
What Is Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis?
Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis is caused from aspiring water into the nose and allowing a waterborne amoeba called Naegleria fowleri to enter the body, move through the olfactory nerve and attack the brain. Aspiration normally happens when playing in warm freshwater rivers and lakes, bathing in hot spring pools, or cleansing the nasal cavity with a neti pot. In most cases it happens when younger children are playing in water that is abnormally high in temperature. Therefore, the infection is more common in the southern states during summertime.
As a preventative measure, people are advised to keep their heads above water whenever the water temperature is 80°F.
What Are the Risks of Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis?
Although the amoeba is present in all freshwater lakes and rivers the infection it causes is very rare, and it can only be a threat to humans if it enters the body through the nose and through through the nasal passages before attacking the brain.
Once the infection is contracted, initial symptoms will include changes in smell or taste, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Physical signs will include stiff neck and other joints. Soon to follow are dizziness, confusion, hallucinations, loss of consciousness, comatose and it results in death within 12 days. There is a 99% chance of death with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri.
Oddly enough, drinking the water that contains the amoeba does not pose a health threat for humans and dogs playing in that same water cannot be infected.