For Immediate Release
September 9, 2011

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

Local and State Health Officials Investigating Probable
Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) Death

State and local health officials have been notified of a probable case of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) caused by Naegleria fowleri, a free-living amoeba found in freshwater, that resulted in the death of Sedgwick County resident. The investigation by Sedgwick County Health Department staff indicate the infection likely occurred while swimming in Winfield City Lake in Cowley County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the presence of Naegleria fowleri in a specimen from the patient. Pending additional studies from the CDC and the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center, this is the first known case of PAM caused by Naegleria fowleri in Kansas.

Naegleri fowleri can be found in freshwater environments around the world, but infection causing PAM is extremely rare. From 2001 to 2010, 32 infections were reported in the U.S.  The risk of infection increases during the summer months, and may be related to prolonged periods of hot weather associated with higher water temperatures and lower water levels. The infection, which is nearly always fatal, typically occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose while the person is swimming underwater or diving and travels to the brain.

“Cases like this are very rare in the United States, and we express our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the person who suffered this infection,” said Robert Moser, MD, KDHE Secretary and State Health Officer.

Symptoms 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:

The safest way to prevent infection from an amoeba is to not swim in warm standing water, poorly maintained swimming pools, storm water holding areas or in places where “no swimming” signs are posted.

For more information on healthy swimming visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/.