A Missouri resident has died after visiting an Iowa lake and becoming infected with a ‘brain-eating’ amoeba.
The patient, who has not been named, was taken to hospital earlier this month after taking a dip in the Lake of Three Fires while visiting its beach in Taylor County, Iowa.
On 8 July, Iowa’s Department of Public Health announced the beach was temporarily closed for swimming as a ‘precautionary response to a confirmed infection of Naegleria fowleri in a Missouri resident’.
Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled organism which lives in warm, fresh water such as lakes and rivers. It can infect swimmers by entering their body through the nose and travelling into the brain, where it destroys brain tissue and leads to brain swelling and death.
According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) the fatality rate of those infected with naegleria fowler is over 97 percent, with only four people surviving out of 154 known infections in the United States from 1962 to 2021.
The Department of Health explained that testing is now taking place to confirm the presence of the amoeba in the lake, which could take ‘several days’ to complete.
“The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services is working closely with the Department of Natural Resources to share information about this rare infection and will provide additional updates as test results become available,” a news release explains.
Swimmers have been assured the infection cannot spread from one person to another, nor can it be contracted by swallowing contaminated water.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has explained it does not plan to release additional information about the person who passed away this month which could identify them ‘because these cases are so incredibly rare and out of respect for the family’.
To avoid becoming infected, the Department of Health has recommended swimmers hold their nose, use nose clips or keep their head above water when swimming in warm fresh water.
“Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high-water temperature,” it continues, adding: “Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.”
Though infection from naegleria fowler is extremely rare, people who have been in a warm body of water have been advised to contact their health care provider immediately if they experience a severe headache, fever, nausea, vomiting or a stiff neck.
The CDC has stressed it is ‘not clear’ whether there is an effective treatment for infection, noting ‘several drugs are effective against Naegleria fowleri in the laboratory’, but their effectiveness is ‘unclear’ since almost all infections have been fatal.