A North Carolina man died after he became ill when he came into contact with a “brain-eating” amoeba after swimming in Fantasy Lake Water Park in Cumberland County.
Eddie Gray visited the lake on July 12 and developed a brain infection after he was stricken with the amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri. He died on July 22, the Greensboro News & Record reported.
Testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the single-celled organism, also known as the “brain-eating” amoeba, was Gray’s cause of death.
Naegleria fowleri is naturally present in warm freshwater areas during summer months. The amoeba travels up the nose to the brain where it attacks tissue and causes swelling, resulting in a condition known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis.
Symptoms of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis are a severe headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, a stiff neck, seizures and coma. The amoeba can cause “severe illness” up to nine days after a person has been exposed to it. The disease acts fast due to swelling in the brain and people usually die within 18 days of developing the infection, according to WBNS.
While the amoeba can be fatal if it goes up the nose, the entity does not cause illness if it is swallowed.
Infections caused by the amoeba are rare, only five cases have been reported in North Carolina and 145 cases have reported in the U.S. from 1962 and 2018, WBNS reported.
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The amoeba cannot be eliminated from freshwater areas, including lakes, ponds and rivers.
However, people can radically decrease their risk of being attacked by the amoeba in their brain by following a few precautions when swimming in freshwater. The News & Record recommended that people use nose plugs and keep their heads above water. Swimmers should also avoid stirring up sediment in shallow, warm waters as well as avoid being active in low-level water that has a high temperature.
Duane Holder, Cumberland County’s interim health director, wished his condolences to Gray’s family. He also encouraged everyone who is taking part in freshwater activities to use caution when doing so.
“People should be aware that this organism is present in warm freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs across North Carolina, so be mindful as you swim or enjoy water sports.”
Fantasy Lake Water Park is surrounded by a man-made lake, per WNBS.
Gray visited the water park with a mission group from Sedge Garden United Methodist Church in Kernersville.
A representative of Gray’s wife asked for privacy and respect during this time, adding that the family has no further comments.