An Arkansas toddler died of a rare brain-eating amoeba infection, which was likely contracted at a splash pad at a country club, according to health officials and the county coroner.
The victim died from Naegleria fowleri infection, which “destroys brain tissue, causing brain swelling and in certain cases, death,” the Arkansas Department of Health said in a news release Thursday.
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that lives in soil and warm freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds and hot springs. In rare instances, people have gotten Naegleria fowleri infections from recreational water that had an insufficient amount of chlorine in it, such as pools, splash pads or surf parks, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Naegleria fowleri infections are rare. Only about three people in the United States get infected per year, but the outcome is usually fatal, according to the CDC.
In the Arkansas case, a 16-month-old boy died on September 4 after spending a few days in the hospital, Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs told CNN on Friday.
Brain-eating amoeba infection Naegleria fowleri. 3D illustration. Credit: Getty Images
The state health department conducted testing and inspection, finding that the victim was likely exposed at the Country Club of Little Rock splash pad.
Multiple samples from the pool and splash pad were sent to the CDC for evaluation, the release said. The CDC found that one splash pad sample had viable Naegleria fowleri and the other samples are still pending.
The Country Club of Little Rock closed its pool and splash pad voluntarily and there is no ongoing risk to the public, according to officials. CNN reached out to the country club but has not heard back.
The Arkansas Department of Health is not confirming additional information about the case, a spokesperson said in an email to CNN on Friday.
The last case of Naegleria fowleri in Arkansas was in 2013, the state health department said.
In 2021, a 3-year-old died from a brain infection from Naegleria fowleri after spending time in a splash pad, according to the CDC. In that case, Texas public health officials discovered the splash pad’s water was “recirculated and not adequately disinfected.”
What to know about Naegleria fowleri
This type of amoeba enters the body through the nose, most commonly when people go swimming, diving or put their heads underwater in freshwater bodies, according to the CDC.
The amoeba travels up to the brain, destroying brain tissue and causing an almost-always fatal infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
Naegleria fowleri infection cannot be spread from person to person.
Symptoms of PAM usually begin five days after infection, but they can start within one to 12 days, according to the CDC.
Headache, fever, nausea or vomiting are some of the symptoms. Later ones can include confusion, stiff neck, lack of attention to surroundings and people, seizures, hallucinations and coma.
Once the disease starts, it rapidly progresses, usually causing death within about five days.
The CDC says the best way to prevent infection when swimming in fresh water is to keep water from going up your nose. It also suggests avoiding stirring up sediment, where amoebae are more likely to live, in the bottom of fresh waters.
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