DHEC: 'Brain eating amoeba' common, infection rare

DHEC: 'Brain eating amoeba' common, infection rare

COLLETON CO., SC (WTOC) - Jeffrey Collins is asking for prayers for his family after his daughter passed away.

Hannah Collins contracted a deadly disease after swimming in the Edisto River near Charleston. She lost her battle with the rare disease over the weekend, and now her father is hoping to help with the funeral.

Jeffrey Collins was booked into the Beaufort County detention Center on Friday, but after appearing in Family Court on Monday morning, he can now be with his family during this time of grievance.

Hannah Collins contracted Naegleria fowleri last month. The 11 year old was crowned Miss Rice Festival in Colleton County earlier this year, and after hearing of her illness, dozens of former classmates from here in the Beaufort area sent their condolences and prayers via social media.

After hearing about this story, several viewers asked if our waters here in the Lowcountry are safe. After speaking with the Department of Health and Environmental Control, agency officials said it's not the water you have to worry about more than it is your activity in the water because the organism is common and is found in most warm, fresh water sources.

"It is a naturally occurring organism, so it's not recommended to test for it because if you were going to find it, that's not an unexpected finding," said Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist for South Carolina. "Finding the organism would not lead to any recommendations or swimming advisories of that sort because it is expected to be there in many circumstances."

DHEC does encourage you to wear nose plugs if you'll be diving, water skiing, or doing any kind of activity that would force water up your nose. Officials say infections like these are very rare. So rare, in fact, that less than 40 people have contracted the illness in the past decade.

Dr. Amanda Parks, director of Infection Control and Antimicrobial Stewardship at the Infectious Disease Associates of the Lowcountry provided the following facts about Naegleria fowleri:

  • Rare cause of meningoencephalitis (brain infection); less than 40 cases reported in US over past decade; last case in SC was four years ago.
  • Most cases of meningoencephalitis are caused by viruses or bacteria which leads to a delay in diagnosis as most testing algorithms do not include evaluation for protozoans. This highlights the need for improved diagnostics in Infectious Diseases. Molecular diagnostics such as multiplex PCR exist but are not widely available. Delay in diagnosis generally leads to multiple ER visits, delay in hospitalization, delay in treatment and ultimately death.
  • More common in summer months and fresh water sources. It is not found in saltwater. Naegleria is protozoan which is commonly found in lakes, rivers, hot springs, untreated pools or water and lives at temperatures ranging 85-115 degrees Farenheit. There is concern that cases may increase as global temperatures increase.
  • While a fatal disease, it rarely results in infection; it has a low risk of infection with 2.6 cases/million exposures reported.
  • Patients usually present with headache, fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, beharioral changes, seizures. Because of the pathophysiology of this infection, sometimes patients report abnormalities in smell and taste prior to headache.
  • Swimmers are advised to use nose plugs or hold nose while diving and to avoid any type of activity that could force water up the nose.
  • If you present to the ER during the summer months with headache, fever, stiff neck it is important to tell your doctor about any freshwater activities in the past week. This is an important but frequently forgotten fact which also leads to delay in diagnosis.

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