A heat-loving, brain-eating amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, has claimed the life of a 9-year old Kansas girl.
Hally Yust, of Spring Hill, Kansas, died last week after developing an infection caused by the amoeba, according to WDAF-TV in Kansas City, Missouri. There were several potential exposures to fresh water in Kansas, so officials have not determined which body of water she may have contracted the amoeba, the Kanasas Department of Health and Environment said in a release.
Naegleria fowleri is a heat-loving amoeba commonly found around the world in warm fresh water bodies such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, as well as soil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The amoeba is not found in salt water.
When ingested, the amoeba can cause an infection known as Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). Infection-causing PAM is extremely rare, according to a press release from the Kansas Department of Health. From 1962 to 2013, there have been 132 cases reported in the U.S., with 34 cases coming between 2004 and 2013.
"We are very saddened to learn of this unfortunate circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time," Dr. Robert Moser, Kansas Department of Health secretary and state health official, said.
The initial symptoms are exactly the same as bacterial meningitis and typically start five days after the infection: headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck.
During the later stages of the infection, people develop seizures, become lethargic and can develop an altered mental state and eventually go into a coma.
Moser stressed that PAM infections are extremely rare and there are precautions to take to lower risk, such as using nose plugs. Infection typically occurs after the amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain when a person is swimming underwater.
Cases of Naegleria fowleri are more common in July, August and September when there is prolonged heat and thus higher water temperatures and lower water levels.
"Most of the cases occur in what we call the southern-tier states, and, in fact, about 50 percent of cases have occurred in Texas and Florida," Dr. Jennifer Cope, medical epidemiologist at the CDC, previously told AccuWeather.com.
Low water may have played a role as Kansas is suffering from drought conditions. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 47 percent of the state is under moderate to sever drought conditions.
Cope said when they examine where infections may have occurred they find that the infections occur where water levels are low or where there are drought conditions or after a heat wave.
AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Dale Mohler said Kansas has seen normal summer temperatures, as well as improved drought conditions over the past several months.
Rainfall since June 1 has been almost twice the normal amount for most of the state, he said. Other areas have seen about one and half times the normal amount.
From 2012 to 2013, there was a long stretch of below normal precipitation, Mohler said.
"They've had enough rain in the last month and a half that they're starting to come out of [the drought] a bit," Mohler said.
Mohler added that there's still deficits because it was such a long period of dry weather, that one or two months of above normal rainfall won't reduce the drought in it's entirety.
"It's been a big step in the right direction," he said.
Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water in warm bodies of freshwater.
Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm bodies of freshwater.
Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
Do not put your head under water in hot springs.