The boy, who was under 18, visited the Kingman Wash area of the park on the weekend of Sept. 30, according to a statement from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The boy developed symptoms about a week after interacting with the deadly amoeba.
The first symptoms are headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Once symptoms begin, the disease usually causes death in about five days.
“This is a very tragic situation and our condolences to the family and friends of this young man,” Jennifer Sizemore, chief of communications for the Southern Nevada Health District, told The Washington Post.
The brain-eating parasite is medically called Naegleria fowleri; it earned its colloquial name because the amoeba feasts on brain tissue as food as water enters the nose with the parasite.
If you swallow the amoeba, you are in no danger. In addition, the infection that causes the amoeba is not contagious.
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Lake Mead’s beaches remain open for recreational swimming. Sizemore said the decision to keep Lake Mead park open was made by the National Park Service.
“Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in fresh, warm water and while the risk of infection is low, recreational water users should always assume there is a risk when entering the water and take precautions,” she added.
Sizemore said there are no plans to put up warning signs.
“The location and number of amoebae in the water can vary over time within the same lake or river, meaning sign posting can lead to misconceptions,” she said. “If there are no signs, people may think there is no risk, or if there are signs, they may think the risk is limited to the area where the sign is placed.”
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In the health district’s press release, Dr. Fermin Leguen, the district health officer, said: “While I want to reassure the public that this type of infection is an extremely rare occurrence, I know it brings no comfort to his family and friends at this time.”
It is very rare for humans to be infected by brain-eating amoebae. But once infected, it is uncommon for it to survive. The death rate from the infection is 97 percent.
According to the CDC, the United States reported 154 cases between 1962 and 2021. Only four people survived.
In most cases, children or young adults become infected with the deadly amoebae. The parasite is commonly found in warm fresh water, such as lakes and rivers, and geothermal water, such as hot springs, according to the CDC.
Texas and Florida have the highest number of reported cases of brain-eating infections, followed by California, Arizona and South Carolina.
As a precautionary measure, the CDC suggests limiting the amount of water flowing through your nose by wearing nose clips or keeping your head above water in fresh water, especially when the water temperature is high and the water level is low.