An individual swimming near Martin’s Landing on the Edisto River contracted an extremely rare infection of the brain after being exposed to what is sometimes referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba.”
The case was announced Tuesday by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control after the infection was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The patient is believed to have been exposed to organism known as Naegleria fowleri while swimming on July 24.
“This organism occurs naturally and is all around us and is present in many warm water lakes, rivers, and streams, but infection in humans is very rare,” said Linda Bell, M.D. and state epidemiologist. “In fact, there have been fewer than 40 cases reported nationwide in the past 10 years.”
According to Bell, one must jump feet-first into a body of water containing the amoeba, allowing the water to enter the nose with enough force for the amoeba to make its way to the brain.
“You should avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of fresh water when the water is warm and the water levels are low,” Bell added. “Also, you should either hold your nose or use a nose plug. You cannot be infected by merely drinking water containing the amoeba.”
Infection from Naegleria fowleri leads to a disease of the central nervous system called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. According to the CDC, the disease is very rare, yet almost always fatal — with only three people in the U.S. out of 138 surviving infection from 1962-2015.
In most cases, the first stage of symptoms materialize within nine days of exposure as those infected begin to experience severe headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting. As the illness progresses, the neck stiffens, and the patient falls into seizures, hallucinations, and coma. Patients usually die within 18 days of symptoms presenting themselves. According to the CDC, the disease is difficult to detect due to its rapid progression, leading to an accurate diagnosis usually coming after death.