OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Department of Health says a Bryan County youngster has died after being hospitalized with a rare disease caused by an amoeba that is present in lakes, ponds and rivers.
Officials said Tuesday the youth exhibited symptoms of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, (PAM) which occurs after being infected by Maegleria fowleri. They say the youth had been swimming and diving in the Red River last week.
Dalton Counts, 9, Cartwright, died Tuesday at Childrens Medical Center in Dallas, and funeral services for him are pending with Cunningham’s Funeral Home in Colbert.
Health officials say the disease-causing organisms multiply rapidly in very warm and stagnant water.
People are exposed to the amoeba when they dive or submerge their head in contaminated water. The amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain, where it destroys the brain tissue.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley says waterborne illnesses increase as heat and drought conditions intensify.
Symptoms of PAM initially include: high fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Later, symptoms may include stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, and coma. PAM cannot be spread from person-to-person. Most occurrences of PAM occur in the southern states. Since 1998, six deaths due to PAM have occurred among Oklahomans.
Health officials encourage Oklahomans to observe these water safety tips to avoid illness while swimming in lakes, rivers and other natural bodies of water:
- Avoid water entering nose or mouth when swimming, jumping, diving, or dunking your head into bodies of fresh warm water.
- Hold your nose or use nose plugs when jumping or diving into water.
- Never swim in stagnant or polluted water.
- Do not swim in areas posted as “No Swimming.”
- Avoid swallowing water from rivers, lakes, streams, or stock ponds.
- Use earplugs, swim goggles, or masks if you tend to get ear or eye infections.
- Swim only in properly maintained pools, because chlorine rapidly kills the ameba.
In addition, like last summer, blue-green algae continue to be present in some Oklahoma lakes. Blue-green algae can produce toxins that result in illness in humans and animals. Direct contact with water that has a blue-green algae bloom can result in a skin rash; eye, ear and throat irritation; asthma-like symptoms; and diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps. Individuals are advised to avoid swimming or other recreational water activities where mats of algae appear on the water.