Watch CBSN Live

Swimmer contracts deadly brain-eating amoeba in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The State Department of Health says a swimmer has died after coming into contact with a rare amoeba in a southern Oklahoma lake.

Spokesman Tony Sellars says the department was notified early Wednesday that the adult swimmer died of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) after visiting Lake Murray late last week. The lake is about 110 miles south of Oklahoma City.

The rare and usually deadly disease is caused by Naegleria fowleri, a single-cell organism that is naturally present in most lakes, ponds and rivers. The amoeba multiplies rapidly in very warm and stagnant water. When swimmers dive or submerge their heads in contaminated water, the amoeba can travel up the nose to the brain, where it destroys tissue.

Seven cases of the disease have been recorded in Oklahoma since 1998.

In another recent case, a California woman died after contracting the amoeba last month. It also made the news when testing of the water supply turned up evidence of contamination in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, though no illnesses were reported there.

While the amoeba can be found in many freshwater bodies, the risks of infection from it are generally low.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says symptoms of the disease start to occur roughly 5 days after infection and may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Once symptoms begin, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within five days.