A 21-year-old woman from Bishop, California, has reportedly died from a rare but devastating infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba.
Inyo County public health officials told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the woman died on June 20 after being infected by Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic amoeba usually found in warm freshwater and soil.
The woman, whose identity has not been revealed by her family, reportedly started exhibiting symptoms — including headache, nausea and vomiting — a few days before her death.
The patient was admitted to Northern Inyo Hospital where she was diagnosed with meningitis, but as her condition continued to deteriorate, medical personnel flew her to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada. KVOR reports the victim died in the ER.
The woman tested positive for Naegleria fowleri, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
It’s unclear how the woman was exposed to the amoeba; however, infections typically happen when people swimming in warm freshwater lakes and rivers or in poorly-maintained pools get contaminated water in their nose. (Very rarely, the amoeba can be found in contaminated tap water.)
Per WPIX: “The amoeba moves to the brain along a nerve in the patient’s nose then wiggles through a bony plate in the skull called the cribiform plate. From there, it has access to the patient’s brain, which it begins to destroy.”
Once symptoms of the infection begin to appear, patients typically die within about five days.
Infections by Naegleria fowleri are extremely rare. According to WPIX, only 133 cases have been reported in the U.S. over the past 53 years. While the relative risk may be “extremely low … the stakes are high because the chance of dying when infected is almost 100 percent,” Inyo County Public Health officer Richard O. Johnson said.
Only three of the 133 people have survived the infection, KVOR reports.
Public health officials said this week that they don’t believe the recent case represents any risk to the general public, adding that the woman is believed to have contracted the amoeba on private property.
To protect yourself from Naegleria fowleri, the CDC recommends staying away from warm, untreated water. In particular, avoid submerging your head under such water or diving into it. Also avoid swimming in unchlorinated swimming pools, and if using a neti pot for nasal irrigation, use filtered or boiled water.
The CDC says the infection cannot be contracted by drinking contaminated water. It is also not spread from one person to another.