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A brain-eating amoeba infected a person who went swimming in Iowa Lake

A rare brain-eating amoeba has sickened a Missouri resident who went swimming in Iowa. The person is now in intensive care.

The swimmer had recently visited the Lake of Three Fires in Taylor County, Iowa, according to a press release from the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services. Tests are currently being conducted to confirm if the amoeba is present in the lake. In the meantime, the beach has been closed as a precaution, the health authorities said.

Known as Naegleria fowleri, the amoeba causes a severe, usually fatal, brain infection while victims swim or dive in warm fresh water. Humans cannot become infected by swallowing contaminated water; the amoeba must enter through the nose to reach the brain.

The associated brain infection, known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis, has a death rate of over 97%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A CDC scientist told CBS News that N. fowleri is “the worst parasite in the world that we know of” because it’s difficult to diagnose and infections progress quickly. Symptoms can appear within a few days of exposure, and people typically die from the infection one to 18 days after becoming ill.

Early symptoms include a severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting, according to the CDC. As infection progresses, patients may experience neck stiffness, altered mental status, seizures, hallucinations, and coma.

The Missouri resident is currently being treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit, according to state health officials.

This could be the first infection in Iowa

A handful of cases have been reported in neighboring states, but this would be Iowa’s first infection if tests confirm exposure.

Missouri reported a single case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis in 1987, while nearby states of Kansas and Minnesota each documented two cases.

Since the CDC began tracking brain-eating amoebae infections in 1962, a total of 154 cases have been reported. Only four of these people survived the infection.

Most N. fowleri infections occur in the southern United States because the amoeba thrives in warm water.

A Florida resident died from the brain-eating amoeba in August 2020. Local news later reported that the victim was a 13-year-old boy who swam in a lake and visited a water park while vacationing in North Florida.

A month later, a 6-year-old boy in Texas died after playing at a local paddling pool. Later tests found the amoeba was present in the water on the splash guard and in a water hose in the boy’s home.

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