LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- A 12-year-old Arkansas girl likely contracted a "brain-eating" amoeba while she was playing in water park, according to health officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) confirmed a case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare but often fatal type of brain infection caused by an amoeba often found in lake waters. Health officials believe the victim got the infection at Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock.
CBS affiliate KTHV in Little Rock identified the victim as Kali Harding, and said she is listed in critical condition at Arkansas Children's Hospital.
The Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which causes the infection, is commonly found in freshwater and soil. If the amoeba enters the through the nose, the microbe can cause an infection which causes the brain tissue to swell (meningitis), eventually leading to death. This is why lake swimmers and divers are more vulnerable. You cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri if you drink water that contains the microbe or if you are swimming in a properly cleaned, maintained and disinfected pool.
The organism is usually found in warm water up to 115 degrees F, which makes it more common during the summer months in the southern parts of the U.S.
PAM symptoms start around one to seven days after infection. They include headache, fever, nausea or vomiting. The patient can develop a stiff neck, confusion, display a lack of attention to people and surroundings, have a loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations. Death occurs around five days after the first signs of symptoms appear in 99 percent of cases.
Recent cases of PAM include a 9-year-old Minn. boy who was swimming in a freshwater lake prior to his death, a 28-year-old man and a 51-year-old woman who had used neti pots for nasal irrigation with water from their home plumbing which tested positive for the microbe, and 10 people in Karachi, Pakistan who may have swam in contaminated water.
It is important to note, however, that it is rare to contract PAM. In the United States, only 128 cases of PAM have been identified from 1962 to 2012. This marks only the sixth case in Arkansas in over 40 years.
"The risk of infection from Naegleria in Arkansas is exceedingly low," said Dr. Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist with ADH, said in a press release. "Swimming is a healthy summertime activity, and we do not want to discourage people from swimming," he added.
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