Man develops fatal brain infection after swimming in NC water park lake

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HOPE MILLS, N.C. (WNCN) – A man is dead after an amoeba went up his nose and caused a fatal brain infection after he swam at a Cumberland County lake, health officials said.

The man became ill after he swam at Fantasy Lake Water Park in Hope Mills on July 22, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said.

The swimmer has been identified as Eddie Gray, of Colfax.

Naegleria fowleri, referred to as the brain-eating amoeba, entered Gray’s body through his nose and caused the fatal brain infection – primary amebic meningoencephalitis, health officials said.

“PAM is difficult to detect because the disease progresses rapidly so that diagnosis is usually made after death,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.

People die usually within 18 days of developing the infection as it destroys brain tissue causing brain swelling.

Naegleria fowleri is naturally present in warm water and does not pose a risk if swallowed.

It only poses a risk if it enters the body through the nose.

“Our sympathies are with the family and loved ones,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore, M.D. “People should be aware that this organism is present in warm freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs across North Carolina, so be mindful as you swim or enjoy water sports.” 

Symptoms after contracting the amoeba include severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and progress to stiff neck, seizures and coma.

Between 1962 and 2018, there have only been 145 known infections from Naegleria fowleri in the U.S.

Duane Holder, interim director of the Cumberland County Health Department, said this is believed to be the county’s first case of Naegleria fowleri.

There is no way to eliminate the amoeba from freshwater lakes.

NCDHHS said to help prevent the amoeba from entering your nose:

  • Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities. 
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels. 
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas. 

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