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NB's The Nyle Magazine

Monday, October 08, 2012



Published August 29, 2012

“Two young boys died after being infected by a lake parasite”

by Nathan’ette Burdine-Follow on Twitter@nbnylemagazine

A nine-year-old Minnesota boy, Jack Ariola, and an eight-year-old South Carolina boy, Blake Driggers, died from a brain infection caused by the parasite, Naegleri fowleri. According to the CDC, the parasite enters through the nose and makes its way up to the brain and causes death.  The parasite is generally found in lakes located in a more tropical or warmer region, like the South, of the country.  The chances of being infected tend to increase during the hottest months of the year, which are July, August, and September.  And due to this summer’s higher temperatures, the chances of being infected in a less tropical area, like Minnesota, have increased.  According to KTSP’s Leslie Rolander article, “Family mourns Stillwater boy who died from apparent amebic infection,” nine year old Jack Ariola contracted the infection, during the first week in August, while swimming in Lily Lake in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Due to the boy’s death, the lake was closed.  The State’s Mindy Lucas wrote in her article “Amoeba kills Sumter youth” that eight-year-old Blake Driggers was infected around July 7, 2012, during a family outing at Lake Marion.  His symptoms occurred rather rapidly.  And within seven days, Driggers’ body temperature had increased.  A high fever and then vomiting followed.  His family rushed him to Columbia, SC., to Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.  And by Sunday, the young boy was not responding.

By all accounts, the Naegleri fowleri parasite can be considered the perfect adapter.  According to the CDC, the parasite is found in common places like warm freshwater lakes, rivers, hot springs, and soil.  The parasite can also be found in contaminated waters such as poorly chlorinated pool water or poorly heated (below 47˚C) tap water.  The low infection rate and the high death rate are two main problems scientists face in finding a successful treatment for the disease.  Based on the CDC’s report, there were 32 reported cases in the U.S between 2001-2010.  Out of those 32 cases, 30 people were infected during recreational water activities and 2 people were infected by tap water.  While in South Carolina, the number of infected individuals is even lower.  According to Lucas, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says that since 1970 six people have contracted the infection.  However, the majority of those cases resulted in death. 

The infection and death from the parasite occurs rapidly.  The parasite enters through the nose and travels to the brain, where Primary Amebic Meningonencephalitis (PAM) occurs.  According to the CDC, it takes between 1-12 days for the symptoms and then death to occur.  The initial symptoms include a headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and a stiff neck.  The symptoms can also progress into a person becoming confused, not being able to recognize familiar people and surroundings, losing his balance, having seizures, and hallucinations.  In the case of Blake Driggers, Lucas noted that Driggers suffered from the initial symptoms of a high fever and vomiting.  And his death occurred within seven days.

The rapid progression of the disease and the ineffectiveness of treatment are the reasons why the death rate is so high.  According to the CDC, treatment has not been as successful as they would have liked.  There have been many cases whereby individuals have been treated for the infection and have died.  Between 1962-2011, only 1 person out of 123 infected individuals has survived.  This places the fatality rate over 99.0%.  The CDC does note that the disease is not contagious.  And although a person can contract the disease from tap water, the person cannot contract the disease by drinking water.  In order for infection to occur, the parasite must enter through the nose.  The CDC recommends avoiding water-related activities, using nose clips to shut the nose when diving, and not digging up the soil.







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