Nebraska child dies from suspected ‘brain-eating amoeba’ in Elkhorn River

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Officials say a “brain-eating amoeba” could be responsible for the death of a child in Douglas County on Wednesday.

The Douglas County Health Department held a press conference on Thursday morning to discuss the case.

Health Director Lindsay Huse said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still conducting tests to confirm the case.

On Aug. 8, the child was potentially exposed to the amoeba while swimming with their family in the Elkhorn River.

If the amoeba was the cause of death, it will be the first confirmed case in Nebraska history.

Health officials say the amoeba is named Naegleria Fowleri.

It has a 97% fatality rate, and once infected, it is fast-moving, often causing death within ten days of exposure.

Huse said it was her understanding that the child was swimming in shallow water.

The amoeba is found in freshwater and occasionally mud, and infects victims who forcefully get water up their noses.

Though experts say it is commonly found in the area, cases are extremely rare with only 154 confirmed cases in the country since 1965.

Dr. Kari Neemann, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says there is no known cure and there have only been four survivors.

“There’s probably about 2.6 cases for every million exposure opportunities.” Neemann said. “Nationally, there is anywhere from zero to eight cases of this a year.”

Neemann says chances of being infected by the amoeba are higher when you are in warm, stagnant and shallow water.

Victims start to show symptoms between one and twelve days after exposure.

Some common signs are fever, nausea, headache, stiff neck, confusion and seizures.

“It’s very possible that other people who were swimming in the area could have have come in contact with this type of amoeba and not been infected,” Huse said.

It’s impossible to know how long the amoeba has been in Nebraska, says Huse, and they are not going to be testing the water in the area at this time.

They are also not planning on closing any parts of the river because of the rarity, but they do want to make Nebraskans aware of the risk.

“I want to stress that this is rare,”Huse said. “We want to make sure that we keep it in perspective and just be very open and transparent so that people understand that this is a risk that is here in our freshwater sources.”

Huse advises the community to lower their chances of infection by plugging their nose when going underwater or doing activities where water may go up their nose and to keep their face out of the water as much as possible.

Experts also say there is no danger in swallowing or drinking water.

“Be aware that this is something that is now present here in our water,” said Huse. “This was just a very, very unfortunate incident.”

Click to learn more about Naegleria Fowleri from the CDC.

Categories: Nebraska News, News