Brain-Eating Amoeba Blamed for California Boy's Death

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A 9-year-old boy from California died last weekend as a result of a brain-eating amoeba that health officials believe he contracted while swimming.

The boy, who has not been identified, is from Lake Elsinore and may have ingested the amoeba while swimming in a lake of the same name. Riverside County, Calif. health officials are warning residents to take precautions when swimming in any lake, pond or hot spring.

The child was infected with an amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri, the Riverside County Department of Public Health said.

VIDEO: Click here to learn more about this rare illness.

The boy was the first ever confirmed case of the infection in Riverside County. Just 33 cases were reported nationwide between 1998 and 2007. Officials did not release the boy’s name.

The department recommended avoiding activities in fresh water when temperatures are high and water levels are low. People should also avoid water around hot springs and power plants.

Symptoms caused by the amoeba include fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck and headaches. The parasite is known to inhabit bodies of freshwater, geothermal water or hot springs, as well as warm water discharged from industrial plants and poorly chlorinated swimming pools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infection occurs when the amoeba latch onto the nasal cavity of people swimming in water and eat away the person's brain tissue. Wearing noseclips while swimming in warm water may help.

Even though the amoeba is active in the summer months, infections are rare. Naegleria infected 23 people from 1995 to 2004, according to the CDC. Last summer, health officials saw a spike in infections in the Western U.S. with six Naegleria-related cases, all of them fatal.