Published August 15, 2011
Two days after a 16-year-old Florida girl died of an infection, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that the culprit was a deadly amoeba, which is commonly found in lakes and rivers.
Health officials in Brevard County said they believe water infected with the parasite, known as a Naegleria fowleri, went up Courtney Nash’s nose while she was swimming in the St. Johns River in Mims, Fla., 44 miles east of Orlando, last week.
Once the amoeba enters the brain, it usually causes a fatal infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Initial signs of PAM include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, loss of smell or taste and stiff neck. The disease spreads rapidly and usually results in death within three to seven days. It cannot be spread from person to person.
A similar case has also been reported in an unidentified person in Virginia.
In a health advisory issued Saturday, state officials said the amoeba proliferates in stagnant freshwater lakes, ponds, streams and rivers when temperatures climb into the 80s. They say people should take safety precautions when swimming, including showering with soap before and after and being careful not to swallow pool, lake or river water.
Officials say 32 such infections were reported in the U.S. from 2001 to 2010, and the most recent previous case in Virginia was in 1969.
THE GIFT OF LIFE
Despite the loss of her daughter, PJ Nash-Ryder said there is some good coming from Courtney's death.
"I got a call last night. They took her into surgery at 4 o'clock and by 8:30 both lungs were already transplanted," Nash-Ryder said. "The liver, the pancreas, this morning. This morning they're performing another miracle for someone else. They're putting kidneys in and they're doing more later today."
Just a week before Courtney died, her mom said the teenager signed up to be an organ donor when she got her driver’s license, and said she knows her daughter is now "up in heaven with God."
"Courtney I am so proud of you. You're my angel. You're one of a kind and I love you," Nash-Ryder said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.