A brain-eating amoeba killed a man earlier this week. The man’s death came days after visiting a water park in Cumberland County, North Carolina, where he was infected with Naegleria fowleri.
In the five decades between 1962 and 2018, only 145 people have been infected by this single-cell organism in the U.S. According to The New York Times, only four of these individuals have survived.
The victim was named as Eddie Gray, 59, from Guildford County, NC. He visited the Hope Mills’ Fantasy Lake Water Park with a church group from Kernersville’s Sedge Garden United Methodist Church. Gray, according to his obituary, was a keen kayaker and enjoyed NASCAR as well as fishing and hunting.
Fantasy Lake is a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts. According to the park’s website, attractions include Tarzan swings, a host of slides and the opportunity to paddleboard and kayak. Water volleyball and water basketball are also included among the activities on offer.
The cause of Gray’s death, Naegleria fowleri, is an amoeba. Which is known to be found in running and still water in the state of North Carolina. “People should be aware that this organism is present in warm freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs across North Carolina, so be mindful as you swim or enjoy water sports,” said state epidemiologist, Zack Moore in a statement.
North Carolina’s health department has sought to provide additional information about the disease in the wake of the death. “[Naegleria fowleri] does not cause illness if swallowed but can be fatal if forced up the nose, as can occur during diving, water-skiing or other water activities,” read a department release.
Hope Mills’ Fantasy Lake, located outside Fayetteville in Cumberland County, NC, actually warns visitors of the presence of the brain-eating amoeba. “There is a low level of Naegleria fowleri risk when entering any warm freshwater. Infections are more likely to occur when water temperatures are high and water levels are low,” reads a warning provided by the park.
Indeed, the illness caused by the amoeba can only be contracted when the single-celled organism is pushed up the nose. This fact is cited to allay concerns about swimming at the park and in the state.
However, other activities like jumping into the water, diving or being submerged, should be considered a higher risk. For that reason, the Cumberland County Health Department recommends taking precautions when engaged in these activities. For example, individuals should aim keep their head above the surface and they may use nose plugs to hold the nose shut when entering the water.
Symptoms of the illness can include nausea, vomiting and headaches. Worryingly, effects can worsen very quickly, and this can make the infection – known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis – difficult to identify. The majority of sufferers die within seven to 14 days.
Swallowing water containing the amoeba is safe, however. If it is though, however, the amoeba can follow the olfactory nerve to the brain – at which point it can begin destroying brain tissue, causing irreversible damage.
Of the 145 recorded past incidences of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, five have been seen in North Carolina. The last known case in the state was that of Lauren Seitz. She was a college student who contracted the disease after being submerged at the Charlotte-based U.S National Whitewater Centre. Texas and Florida hold the most cases seen of this disease.