A Boy Died Of A Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba From Lake Mead & Here's What Swimmers Should Know

It's super rare and deadly.

Senior Global Editor
A boy wakeboarding on Lake Mead.

A boy wakeboarding on Lake Mead.

A boy has died of a rare parasite that he’s suspected of picking up at Lake Mead near Las Vegas, health officials say.

The parasite, commonly referred to as a brain-eating amoeba, is called Naegleria fowleri, and is extremely rare and very deadly.

Officials say the boy from Nevada was exposed while visiting the Arizona side of Lake Mead in early October. He was under the age of 18 although no further details were released about him.

Here’s what you need to know about the parasite, according to the latest info from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is a brain-eating amoeba?

Naegleria fowleri, a.k.a. the brain-eating amoeba, is typically found in warm, fresh waterways such as lakes and rivers, according to the Southern Nevada Health District. It can also be found in untreated geothermal water such as hot springs and in the soil and sediment at the bottom of waterways.

It's not found in salt water so there's no need to worry there.

What are symptoms of a brain-eating amoeba infection?

The exact disease caused by the parasite is called primary amebic menigoencephalitis (PAM).

Symptoms of PAM can start anytime within the first 12 days of infection, although they usually set it around Day 5.

Symptoms can include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. This can progress into a stuff neck, confusion, hallucination, seizures and a coma.

"After symptoms start, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about 5 days," the CDC says.

How do you get infected by brain-eating amoeba?

Swimmers are most at risk of infection because the brain-eating amoeba reaches your brain through the nose.

In other words, you need to get tainted water up your nose to get an infection. However, swallowing tainted water won't harm you, the Southern Nevada Health District says.

Brain-eating amoeba infections also don't spread from person to person.

How deadly is a brain-eating amoeba infection?

A brain-eating amoeba infection is very deadly. The amoeba attacks the brain tissue and moves very quickly, so doctors still haven't come up with a great way to stop it.

The death rate is "over 97%," according to the U.S. CDC, with only four documented cases of people surviving it in the country since 1962.

How common are brain-eating amoeba?

Brain-eating amoeba cases are extremely rare, and most states have only ever seen a handful of incidents over the last half-century.

The U.S. CDC has recorded a total of 154 cases between 1962-2021. Texas (39) and Florida (37) account for the vast majority of those cases, while the next-highest state on the list is California (10) followed by a few cases here and there in other states.

Namely, a boy died of an infection in Nebraska earlier this year.

Although rare, the parasite has been found in many different countries. In Pakistan, for instance, 10 deaths were linked to PAM in 2012.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Josh Elliott
Senior Global Editor
Josh Elliott is a Senior Editor for Narcity’s Global Desk focused on celebrity interviews and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
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