What is a Brain-Eating Amoeba? Child Dies in Texas After Visiting Splash Pad

A child has died from a rare infection caused by a so-called brain-eating amoeba, which was found in the waters of a Texas splash pad that he had been visiting.

The child, whose identity is being kept private, passed away on September 11, after being hospitalized with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), the City of Arlington wrote in a press release. The infection is caused by Naegleria fowleri, a heat-loving amoeba that usually feeds on bacteria, but can make its way into the body via the nose. It is commonly known as the "brain-eating amoeba."

An analysis of water samples taken from the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad in Arlington, which the child visited three times between late August and early September, confirmed the presence of the amoeba.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducted the analysis, determined that the site was the likely source of the child's infection.

The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is commonly found in soil and warm fresh water, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs. However, it can also be found in swimming pools that are poorly maintained and inadequately chlorinated.

All four public splash pads in Arlington passed their annual inspection prior to the start of the summer season. But records from Don Misenhimer Park and The Beacon Recreation Center show that employees did not consistently record or conduct required water quality testing, including checking chlorine levels.

All four splash pads have been closed and will not reopen before the end of the year.

The City of Arlington has assured residents that the city's drinking water supply is not affected.

Water chlorination readings were not documented on two of the three dates that the child visited Don Misenhimer splash pad.

Records show that chlorination levels were at an acceptable standard two days before the child's last visit, but the next reading was documented on the day after their visit, and showed that the chlorination level had fallen below the minimum requirement.

Newsweek has contacted Arlington Parks and Recreation for comment.

Naegleria fowleri usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. The amoeba then makes its way to the brain via the olfactory nerve, where it causes PAM, an infection that inflames and destroys brain tissue.

Between 1962 and 2019, the CDC recorded 148 confirmed Naegleria fowleri infections in the U.S. Four of those people survived. However, one survivor, an 8-year-old boy, suffered likely permanent brain damage.

It is unknown why some people become infected with the amoeba while others, who may have been swimming in the same body of water at the same time, do not.

Initial symptoms, including a severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting, typically presenting themselves around five days after infection. They can be followed by confusion, a loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. Patients often die within days of symptoms first occurring.

Because the symptoms largely align with those of bacterial meningitis, around 75 percent of PAM diagnoses are made posthumously, according to the CDC.

However, in the cases where a PAM diagnosis has been confirmed in time for treatment to be administered, a new drug called miltefosine has shown signs of promise, when used alongside aggressive measures to combat brain swelling.

Several drugs have been found to be effective against the infection under lab conditions, but haven't had the desired effect in real-world cases, the CDC states.

3D illustration of the Naegleria fowleri ameba
A 3D illustration of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which caused the death of a child in Arlington on September 11. Dr_Microbe/iStock