Young boy dies after contracting brain-eating amoeba after swimming in Lake Mead

A juvenile has died from a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in Lake Mead earlier this month, the Southern Nevada Health District reported on Oct. 19. 

The health district says Naegleria fowleri, the bacteria found in the deceased male, is commonly found in freshwater lakes and rivers including hot springs. Nevada health officials were notified of the patient's exposure by the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"It is a commonly occurring organism so it is known to be found in all these areas," SNHD communicable disease manager Kimberly Franich said. "It’s just uncommon that a person is infected."

Naegleria fowleri, most commonly enters its hosts through the nose where it then travels to the brain.  It cannot infect people if swallowed and is not spread from person to person, the CDC says. Deaths from this particular bacteria are extremely rare according to Nevada health officials. 

The Clark County boy may have been exposed in the Kingman Wash area of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, FOX 5 Vegas reported. 

Recommended precautions from the CDC include:

  • Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm freshwater, especially during the summer.
  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when in bodies of warm fresh water.
  • Avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs and other untreated geothermal waters.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment in shallow warm fresh water.

The National Park Service said this is the first confirmed fatality caused by Naegleria fowleri exposure at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

"The National Park Service, working with the NPS Office of Public Health, has made the decision to continue to allow recreational swimming at Lake Mead National Recreation as the organism exists naturally and commonly in the environment but the disease is extremely rare," said Dr. Maria Said, U.S Public Health Service Officer. "However, recreational water users should always assume there is a risk anytime they enter warm fresh water."

FOX 5 Vegas contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.