News that a 9-year-old Virginia boy died recently of a brain infection linked to a water-borne "brain-eating amoeba" is bound to raise concern as water-lovers look for ways to cool off in the dog days of summer.
Autopsy results confirmed the cause of death as an inflammation of the brain and its lining. The victim's mother said the boy, Christian Alexander Strickland, had attended a fishing day camp at several locations the week before he died.
"It's important that people be aware of ... safe swimming messages," Dr. Keri Hall, state epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in a statement.
It's the second death in the last month linked to the same parasitic infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirmed that a 16-year-old Floridan, Courtney Nash, died Saturday not long after swimming in St. John's river.
But the tragic circumstances surrounding the two deaths do not suggest an imminent public danger. According to the CDC, only 32 infections, known as Naegleria fowleri, were reported between 2001 and 2010. The culprit is a microscopic organism that's found in freshwater lakes, rivers, and hot springs that enters someone's body via the nose. From there it travels to the brain where it attacks vulnerable brain tissue.
Although the Naegleria fowleri infection has been reported around the world, most of the cases in the United States have been linked to freshwater sources in the southern states. The amoeba proliferates in stagnant freshwater lakes and ponds during hot weather.
While the odds of contracting the disease are low, the CDC offers the following advice:
- Naegleria fowleri infections occur mainly in July, August, and September and infections are most likely when it is hot for prolonged periods of time
- The infection cannot spread from one person to another
- Death results within 1 to 12 days of the infection
- The CDC recommends refraining from stirring up lake sediment while swimming in shallow or warm freshwater
- Keep your nose shut or use nose clips
- Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
- If you encounter fever, headaches, a stiff neck, and vomiting after being in warm freshwater recently, contact a physician immediately