JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — A family is devastated and health officials are searching for answers after a 9-year-old Kansas girl died from a “brain-eating amoeba” after swimming over the Fourth of July weekend.
The obituary for Hally “Bug” Nicole Yust says she passed away Wednesday.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirms that someone in Johnson County died from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) caused by Naegleria fowleri.
Naegleria fowleri is commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba” or “brain-eating ameba” and is a free-living amoeba found in freshwater.
KCTV reports that officials have not determined exactly where the Spring Hill girl contracted the infection. She apparently had been swimming in several area lakes.
Hally’s obituary says she had a lifelong passion to be a college basketball player.
“Hally knew no stranger and lived life to the fullest, enjoying waterskiing, water sports of any kind, farming with Dad, video making, song writing, and spending time with friends and family. As a giver, caretaker, sister, daughter, and friend, Hally was the light to the world and a blessing to all,” the obit said.
Initial laboratory examination has identified the presence of Naegleria fowleri in a specimen from Hally. Additional laboratory testing by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pending.
This is the second known case of PAM caused by Naegleria fowleri in Kansas. The first case occurred in 2011.
The investigation into Hally’s death indicates there were several potential fresh water exposures in Kansas, so the actual source of the infection cannot be determined.
Naegleri fowleri can be found in freshwater environments around the world, but infection causing PAM is extremely rare. From 1962 to 2013, there have been 132 cases reported in the United States, with 34 of those cases occurring from 2004 to 2013. Most cases have occurred in southern-tier states. The risk of infection is very low, but increases during the summer months when water temperatures rise and more people participate in water-related activities. The infection typically occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose while the person is swimming underwater or diving and travels to the brain.
“We are very saddened to learn of this unfortunate circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time,” said Robert Moser, MD, KDHE secretary and state health officer in a news release. “It is important for the public to know that infections like these are extremely rare and there are precautions one can take to lower their risk – such as nose plugs.”
Symptoms usually appear about five days after infection, but can range between one and seven days, and include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures, and hallucinations. This infection cannot be spread from person to person or contracted from a properly maintained swimming pool.
Though the risk of infection is extremely low, the following precautions might decrease the possibility of infection:
Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature.
Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
There is no known way to control the occurrence of Naegleria fowleri in freshwater lakes and rivers.