Authorities confirm that a South Carolina patient is suffering from a rare and deadly brain-eating amoeba, likely contracted July 24 after swimming in the Edisto River.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed for us that this individual was exposed to the organism Naegleria fowleri,” said Linda Bell, M.D. and state epidemiologist, WCSC reports.
“This organism occurs naturally and is all around us and is present in many warm water lakes, rivers and streams, but infection in humans is very rare,” she added. “In fact, there have been fewer than 40 cases reported nationwide in the past ten years.”
Miltefosine, a prescription drug that can fight the rare illness, was brought in overnight from Florida.
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It is unclear what state the patient is currently in, although experts cite that 95 percent of cases are fatal.
According to authorities, however, most people do not need to worry about acquiring a brain-eating amoeba problem.
“First, you must be swimming in water in which the amoeba is present,” Dr. Bell said. “Second, you must jump into the amoeba-containing water feet-first, allowing the water to go up your nose with enough force that the amoeba can make its way to the brain. Most commonly, exposure results in the amoeba dying before causing infection.”
Swimming in the sea should still be fine as well, experts say. Salt water found in oceans do not contain the organism Naegleria fowleri.
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Still, experts offer some suggestions to lessen risk.
“You should avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of fresh water when the water is warm and the water levels are low. Also, you should either hold your nose or use a nose plug. You cannot be infected by merely drinking water containing the amoeba,” Dr. Bell said.
It’s not the first time the rare infection has captured national attention.
In 2010, 10-year-old Liza Hollingsworth died after being infected with the amoeba.
“She was just was swimming around with all of her little buddies and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and a little drop of water that had this amoeba in it, one in a bazillion chance or whatever, went in her nose," said Dunn Hollingsworth, the girl's father.
About one month later, a little boy in Texas also died from the infection.