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Brain-Eating Amoeba Kills Tehama County Boy

RED BLUFF (AP) -- A child infected with an extremely rare brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a Northern California lake died in a hospital, his family confirmed Friday.

David Pruitt, 7, of Tehama County, died from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, on Aug. 7, said his aunt, Crystal Hayley.

The boy was rushed to the emergency room on July 30 and then flown to UC Davis Medical Center where he was on life support with severe brain swelling, Hayley said in a fundraising site she created for the family to raise funds for his care and funeral.

Amoebic meningoencephalitis due to Naegleria fowleri
Under a magnification of 630X, and implementing a the direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) staining technique, this photomicrograph depicts histopathologic characteristics associated with a case of amebic meningoencephalitis due to Naegleria fowleri parasites. Naegleria fowleri infects people when water containing the ameba enters the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. The Naegleria fowleri ameba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue. Image courtesy CDC/Dr. Visvesvara, 1980. (Getty Images).

The infection is extremely rare, and there have only been 10 cases reported in California since 1971, the Tehama County Health Services Agency said in an Aug. 4 news release. It said the boy was likely infected in a lake in Tehama County but didn't identify the boy or say where he got infected.

Tehama County public health officials did not return telephone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

His parents declined an interview request from The Associated Press. But Hayley said "they want people to be aware of this amoeba and the illness signs."

The parasite, called Naegleria fowleri, usually infects people when contaminated water enters their body through the nose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infection normally occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. In rare instances, people can get infected if warm water from a swimming pool that has not been adequately treated with chlorine enters the nose, the CDC said on its page about the infection.

"Once the ameba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM, which is usually fatal," it said.

In the first stage of infection, patients report having a severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. As the infection worsens, they can develop a stiff neck and experience seizures or hallucinations, according to the CDC.

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