A boy has died after being infected by a rare brain-eating amoeba, which officials believe he may have been exposed to at Lake Mead, the Southern Nevada Health District announced Wednesday.
The juvenile may have encountered the organism, called Naegleria fowleri, in the park’s Kingman Wash area, located on the Arizona side of the lake near Hoover Dam, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area said in a release.
Officials did not release the name or exact age of the person who died, but said he was under 18 years old.
“This is the first confirmed fatality caused by Naegleria Fowleri exposure at Lake Mead National Recreation Area,” the park said.
The microscopic amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater, but infections are rare, according to the CDC. Only 31 Naegleria fowleri infections were reported in the US between 2012 and 2021, the CDC said. While infections are uncommon, they are almost always fatal.
Someone can become infected when water containing the amoeba enters their nose, typically when swimming, diving or putting their head underwater, the CDC said. It can’t cause infection if swallowed and does not spread from person to person.
This is at least the third fatal Naegleria fowleri infection this year, including a child in Nebraska who fell ill after swimming in a river and a Missouri man who contracted the infection at a beach.
An investigation by the Southern Nevada Health District determined the boy may have been exposed in early October and began developing symptoms about a week later, the district said.
“My condolences go out to the family of this young man,” said Southern Nevada District Health Officer Dr. Fermin Leguen. “While I want to reassure the public that this type of infection is an extremely rare occurrence, I know this brings no comfort to his family and friends at this time.”
The National Park Service will continue to allow recreational swimming at Lake Mead, according to the park’s release. U.S Public Health Service Officer Dr. Maria Said explained in a statement that the decision took into account that “the organism exists naturally and commonly in the environment but disease is extremely rare.”
“However, recreational water users should always assume there is a risk anytime they enter warm fresh water,” Said advised.
The park urged people to take precautions recommended by the CDC, which include avoiding jumping and diving into warm freshwater, holding or clipping their nose shut when swimming, keeping their head above water and avoiding submerging their head in hot springs.