July 26 (UPI) — North Carolina health officials announced Thursday that a person died from an illness related to a so-called brain-eating amoeba.
The state’s Department of Health and Human Resources said that the individual contracted the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which is naturally present in freshwater during the summer months, while swimming at a water park on July 12.
“Laboratory testing at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the individual’s illness was caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater,” the department said.
Health officials said the amoeba does not cause illness if swallowed but can be fatal if forced up the nose during activities such as diving or water-skiing.
“These rare infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels,” the department said.
Illness due to the amoeba can occur up to nine days after exposure and symptoms of infection begin with a severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and then progress to a stiff neck, seizures and coma.
Only 145 known cases of Naegleria fowleri infections have taken place in the United States between 1962 and 2018, including five in North Carolina.
North Carolina epidemiologist Zack Moore offered sympathies to the victim’s family while urging people to be aware of the amoeba.
“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,” Moore said.