On July 8, a rare but deadly brain-eating amoeba found in warm freshwater infected and killed a 9-year-old Kansas girl. State health officials, however, are emphasizing the child’s death should not make people more fearful to go in the water, due to the extremely low risk of infection.
Hally Yust’s death from the amoeba Naegleria fowleri was sudden and unexpected, and health officials have yet to determine the exact lake in which the Spring Hill, Kan., resident contracted the infection. While the amoeba has taken the lives of all but three people it’s infected over the last 51 years, the total number of infections is still no more than 133, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Within just the last five years, there have already been more shark attacks.
N. fowleri enters a person’s bloodstream through the nose, traveling straight to the brain and hijacking the surrounding spinal fluid. The resulting swelling often induces seizures, coma, and eventual death. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a news release that the amoeba’s infection, formally known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), is the second to appear in Kansas. The first case occurred in 2011.
â€” Ryan Kath (@ryankath) July 11, 2014
“We are very saddened to learn of this unfortunate circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time,” said Dr. Robert Moser, the department’s Secretary and State Health Officer. “It is important for the public to know that infections like these are extremely rare,” but if people do want to protect themselves they should use nose plugs and avoid submerging their head underwater.
In a statement released by Yust’s family, they explain their daughter’s love for playing in the water. In her home state and those surrounding it, such as Texas and Louisiana, the high temperatures seldom cool the water enough to stop the bacteria from breeding. So far, Kansas health officials have not released the names of the lakes that could contain the deadly organism.
Yust’s family say they do not want people to fear the bacteria in their local waters, but rather celebrate their daughter’s life by continuing to swim and play. They’ve also set up a scholarship fund to provide educational opportunities to people who love basketball as much as she did. “We want you to know this tragic event is very, very rare,” they wrote, “and this is not something to become fearful about.”