Boy, 7, dies after being infected by extremely rare brain-eating amoeba

The child, named David Pruitt, was first infected with Naegleria fowleri while swimming in a lake in northern California

Kelsie Sandoval
In New York
Monday 16 August 2021 17:45
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In Red Bluff, California, a 7-year-old boy died from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare infection of the brain.

The child, named David Pruitt, was first infected with Naegleria fowleri, otherwise known as “brain-eating amoeba”, while swimming in a lake in northern California.

Tehama County Health Services Agency issued a statement on 4 August saying that the boy likely was infected while swimming in a freshwater lake in Tehama County. But the statement did not specify which lake he swam in. He ultimately died on 7 August.

Naegleria fowleri is an extremely rare parasite. Only 10 cases have been reported in California since 1971, according to the statement.

The parasite is commonly found in warm freshwater bodies of water, like lakes, rivers, and hot springs. An infection usually occurs when people are swimming and, within the contaminated water, Naegleria fowleri enters through the nose and travels to the brain. A person cannot get infected, however, through swallowing contaminated water. Once the parasite is in the brain, it destroys brain tissue.

Once infected with the brain-eating amoeba, the chances of survival are grim. With over a 97 per cent death rate, only four out of 148 people have survived from 1962 to 2019 in the US.

Crystal Hayley, David’s aunt, said on a fundraising page that he was rushed to the hospital on 30 July and then transferred to UC Davis Medical Center. He was on life support because of severe brain swelling.

Ms Haley told the Associated Press that the boy’s parents “want people to be aware of this amoeba and the illness signs”.

The first symptoms of PAM start around five days after infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. As the infection progresses, symptoms can escalate to stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.

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