Deadly Amoeba Disease May Be Treatable

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Tulsa-area hospitals have reportedly been informed that there may be a treatment for the rare amoeba disease that killed two boys on Friday.

The children died after being infected with a rare parasite, a condition associated with swimming in stagnant water, health officials said.

The boys, ages 9 and 7, did not know each other but were both believed to have been swimming in area ponds before becoming infected with Naegleria (search), an amoeba that enters the body through the nose and can cause a deadly inflammation of the brain.

The local newspaper The Oklahoman reported that a drug called Zithromax (search) was proven an effective treatment in mice for a different form of the amoeba disease, amoebic meningoencephalitis. Shannon Soltow, now a researcher at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, is the author of the study conducted two years ago.

In Soltow's study, all 10 mice beat the disease after being treated with Zithromax. Most human patients are given Amphotericin B (search), an anti-fungal medication, which cured only five of the tested mice.

Wanda McKinney, the aunt of one of the victims, told FOX News the treatment may not have the same effect in humans.

"According to researchers at OSU they possibly have a treatment that may work, it would only be experimental, but at this point in time there is not a guarantee that there is any treatment that could cure this type of disease," she said.

Her nephew, Terrell Hampton, was nine years old. The other victim was Martinez Owens.

Saint Francis hospital, where both boys were treated, maintained that prompt diagnosis and treatment may help. Unfortunately, the symptoms of Naegleria in humans — including headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck — are not believed to become severe enough for patients to seek treatment until more than three days after infection, according to The Oklahoman.

"Actually, when he was in the hospital he was first being treated for meningitis because those were kind of similar symptoms," McKinney told FOXNews. "Since it was so rare, they did not immediately test him for the water-borne disease or the organism, so when they finally did tell us that it was the amoeba parasite that he had been contracted with, by then it was too late to save him. He was already brain-dead."

When the infection progresses, the amoeba destroys more and more brain tissue, causing confusion, lack of attention to surroundings and loss of balance, followed by seizures and hallucinations.

Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Gary Cox told FOX News that the boys had gone swimming in contaminated water within days of each other.

"[The boys] had been there between July 24 and July 26, which would be within the period of time that we'd be looking at for the incubation period, which is 3-7 days before onset of symptoms."

Each boy went to doctors with symptoms of fever, hallucinations and headaches, Tulsa Health Department spokeswoman Melanie Christian said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are trying to determine if the amoeba's presence can be linked to one Tulsa splash playground through lab tests of the boys' brain tissue, according to KTUL-TV in Oklahoma.

Three city pools the boys were known to have visited were briefly closed for testing. They were reopened after tests showed their chlorine levels had been sufficient.

The lab tests are expected to take two to three weeks, Christian told The Oklahoman.

KTUL also reports Tulsa city crews were working to fix drainage problems, concrete defects, holes in the ground, and runoff problems at Helmerich Park and Mohawk Park.

Mohawk Park is believed to be where the two victims may have been exposed to the rare disease. That park is closed.

The Oklahoman explains "splash pads" or parks as areas where streams of water shoot from fountains. Children play on a 30-foot pad on the ground and buckets above their heads turn over when they fill with water. But McKinney said that water is treated.

"With the chlorinated city water parks it's impossible for the amoeba to live, but just a step outside the water park there is a small area that would catch the water falling from the water park that became stagnant," she told FOXNews.

"Actually as I walked and viewed the site yesterday, the only way that both children possibly could have even contracted the amoeba was they would have had to have been playing and falling, because it was not a swimming area. Maybe splashing through it and maybe splashing up in the face," she said.

Cox said authorities are aware of those areas. "What we're really interested in are two ponds of stagnant water 30 to 40 feet away from that splash pad," he said.

If, however, investigators determine the boys contracted the infection from a natural body of water, the health department would work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to post warning signs. According to The Oklahoman, water from Valley View Creek, which runs behind one of the boys' homes, is also being tested.

Of the 200 known cases of Naegleria in the past 40 years, only two people have survived, health officials said.

Cox passed on to FOX News the public health message of precaution that's being issued to Tulsa area residents.

"If they're going to jump in bodies of water, use a nose clip. Don't swim underwater in natural bodies of water, don't play in stagnant water. If you have a wading pool in the backyard, change that water out on a daily basis. And we really say in areas of heat and drought ... where you have high temperatures and not much rain, we encourage parents to think about encouraging their children just to play in a chlorinated swimming pool."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.