A brain-eating amoeba has recently killed someone in Arkansas, local health officials reported this week. The unidentified victim seems to have contracted the incredibly rare, often fatal infection from a pool or splash pad at a country club. The club has since shut down these facilities, and health officials say there is no ongoing threat to the public.
The amoeba is called Naegleria fowleri. It’s a single-celled organism that lives in soil and warm freshwater environments, where it typically feeds on bacteria. N. fowleri doesn’t normally interact with humans, and simply swallowing the amoeba doesn’t make people sick. But when it ends up entering the body through the nose, N. fowleri can migrate up to the brain. Once there, it can literally start feeding on brain tissue and trigger massive, life-threatening inflammation. This brain infection is known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis or PAM.
PAM is exceedingly rare, with only around 150 cases ever documented in the U.S. and an average of three cases reported every year. But once the infection becomes symptomatic, it’s almost always fatal. These symptoms initially include severe headaches, fever, and nausea, which then progress to seizures, hallucinations, and coma. PAM is usually caught by people swimming in or using water from lakes or other natural freshwater environments. However, the amoeba can sometimes enter and survive inside water systems like pools or drinking water supplies, especially if these systems aren’t properly maintained.
The Arkansas Department of Health reported this latest case on Thursday—the first documented in the state since 2013. According to officials, the person likely caught the infection from using the pool or splash pad at the Country Club of Little Rock. Testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already confirmed the presence of the amoeba at the country club’s splash pad, though additional testing is still ongoing. Officials have not provided any further information on the victim or other details such as the suspected date of exposure at this time.
As scary as Naegleria fowleri is, officials say there’s no need for the public to be worried.
“There is no ongoing risk to the public related to this exposure. The Country Club of Little Rock voluntarily closed the pool and splash pad, and they both remain closed,” the health department wrote in its announcement. “Naegleria fowleri cannot infect people if swallowed and is not spread from person to person.”