LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) – An Arkansas child died after exposure to a rare brain-eating amoeba at a Little Rock splash pad, public health officials said.
The Arkansas Department of Health said Thursday that the unidentified child died after exposure to Naegleria fowleri, a rare amoeba that can cause a brain-tissue-destroying infection.
Health officials said they had investigated the death and determined the infection came from a splash pad at the Country Club of Little Rock. Samples from the pad were sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirmed one sample contained the amoeba.
The club has closed the splash pad and pool.
The infection caused by exposure to Naegleria fowleri is called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. Symptoms of PAM include severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting which then escalates to stiff neck, seizures, and coma that can lead to death. The CDC reports that PAM is almost always fatal.
Naegleria fowleri cannot infect anyone who swallows it and cannot be spread from person to person, the department of health said. People primarily become infected when swimming in infected bodies of water where the amoeba can enter through the nose.
Seven infections in the U.S. have been traced back to drinking water sources, according to the CDC, but in each case, the water entered people’s system through the nose by putting their head underwater in a tub or by using a neti pot to clear their nose.
Approximately three cases of these infections happen in the United States each year, and ADH officials said the last case of infection in Arkansas was in 2013. In that case, 12-year-old Kali Hardig was hospitalized for 55 days but was a rare survivor of the disease.
According to the CDC, there have been a total of six cases of Naegleria fowleri infection reported in Arkansas between 1962 and 2022.
While infections have been reported in nearly half of states, they happen more often in southern states.