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Missouri swimmer infected with rare brain-eating amoeba, likely from lake in Iowa

Parasite called Naegleria fowleri has been found in several states and is blamed for 3 deaths in the U.S. this year
How to stay safe from the brain-eating amoeba 01:03

A Missouri resident is hospitalized in intensive care after being infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba that likely happened after swimming in a southeastern Iowa lake, health officials said Friday.

The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services has shut down the beach at Lake of Three Fires State Park in Taylor County after the person was diagnosed with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and usually fatal infection caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba.

"The closure is a precautionary response to a confirmed infection of Naegleria fowleri in a Missouri resident with recent potential exposure while swimming at the beach," according to a release from Iowa health officials.

Iowa state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are testing to confirm the presence of the infection in the lake, which could take several days to complete.

People are infected when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose, usually while victims are swimming or diving in lakes and rivers. The fatality rate is over 97%, according to CDC statistics. Only four people out of 154 known infected individuals in the United States from 1962 to 2021 have survived.

"It's the worst parasite in the world that we know of because it causes such devastating pathology," said Christopher Rice, a research scientist in the Center for Drug Discovery at the University of Georgia. He added that the brain infection is difficult to diagnose because it requires a sample of cerebral spinal fluid.

It is believed to be the first case discovered in Iowa. Neighboring states Minnesota, Missouri and Kansas have all reported infections, which have primarily occurred in southern-tier states.

In 2020, a 13-year-old boy reportedly died from a brain-eating amoeba after vacationing in Florida, according to his family.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the rare amoeba is primarily found in fresh water, such as lakes, rivers and hot springs.

The CDC says symptoms start as severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting; symptoms can then progress to stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and coma.

Signs of infection typically start a few days after swimming or other nasal exposure to contaminated water. People die within one to 18 days after symptoms begin. However, the CDC says people cannot be infected by swallowing contaminated water.

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