Ohio teen dies after contracting brain-eating amoeba while swimming

WESTERVILLE, OH (WCMH) – An Ohio teen has died after contracting a brain-eating amoeba while swimming on a church trip.

The 18-year-old girl contracted meningoencephalitis, according to a representative of Westerville City Schools. Franklin County Public Health is investigating.

The disease is only contracted through natural water sources when water is drawn into the body through the nose, according to the health department. There are several different types of the disease and several different carriers; all affect the brain.

The health department is certain it was not contracted in Ohio because she’d not been swimming in Ohio during the 1 to 7-day incubation period. The exact location she went swimming has not been specified.

The condition is not contagious.

Jim Wilson, senior pastor at Church of the Messiah United Methodist Church in Westerville, said the teen who died was part of his church’s youth music ministry group.

“She was an incredible person, so full of life,” Wilson said.

Wilson told NBC4 the group of 32 students traveled from Ohio to West Virginia and North Carolina, singing at churches and nursing homes.

“They had one day of recreation where they stopped at the U.S. Whitewater Center and went whitewater rafting and they had a grand day,” Wilson said.

While it’s not clear where the girl contracted the disease, Wilson said that was the only place the group went where there was water.

The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, said it met with health officials from Mecklenburg County Tuesday afternoon to discuss this case.

“We will deeply miss her, but we were so blessed by her presence and her gifts that she just shared in a beautiful way,” Wilson said. “She was a special person.”

The scientific name of the “brain-eating” amoeba is Naegleria fowleri according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It “is commonly found in warm freshwater (e.g. lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and soil.” It can also occur when contaminated water from other sources, such as “inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water,” enters through the nose. The CDC says it cannot be contracted by swallowing tainted water.

It causes a “rare and devastating” infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis that is almost always fatal.

A woman recently died of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) after contracting the bacteria in Oklahoma, according to KFOR. A Houston teen also contracted PAM after swimming in his home state last year, according to CNN. A 9-year-old girl in Kansas also died of the disease in 2014. 

Symptoms start 1-9 days after the water is ingested, the CDC says. Early symptoms can include a severe frontal headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. More severe symptoms can include a stiff neck, seizures, altered mental states, hallucinations, and coma.

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