CDC confirms SC patient with 'brain-eating' amoeba

CDC confirms SC patient with 'brain-eating' amoeba

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The Centers For Disease Control has confirmed there is a South Carolina patient with Naegleria fowleri, an extremely rare infection of the brain.

Officials believe the exposure happened on July 24 when the person was swimming near Martin's Landing on the Edisto River.

"This organism occurs naturally and is all around us and is present in many warm water lakes, rivers and streams, but infection in humans is very rare. In fact, there have been fewer than 40 cases reported nationwide in the past ten years," said Linda Bell, M.D. and state epidemiologist.

Only rarely is the infection associated with swimming pools with inadequate levels of chlorine, as well as flushing sinuses with contaminated water, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Dr. Bell said that infection from Naegleria fowleri is extremely difficult to contract, requiring very specific circumstances.

A drug used to treat patients fighting the so-called "brain-eating" amoeba was brought to Charleston overnight.

The CEO of the drug company, Profounda, said the drug was brought from Orlando, Fla. MUSC confirmed earlier Tuesday they were waiting for results of lab tests sent to the the CDC.

Todd Maclaughlan with Profounda said the call came into his office at 10:30 p.m. Monday and he went in to make sure the patient had the medicine.

He says the medication, Miltefosine, was driven by courier on the six hour trip to Charleston.

DHEC released the following statement Tuesday:

Lab tests have confirmed that a South Carolina resident has contracted an extremely rare infection of the brain, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced today.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed for us that this individual was exposed to the organism Naegleria fowleri," said Linda Bell, M.D. and state epidemiologist. "The exposure is thought to have occurred on July 24 while the individual was swimming near Martin's Landing on the Edisto River in Charleston County. This organism occurs naturally and is all around us and is present in many warm water lakes, rivers and streams, but infection in humans is very rare. In fact, there have been fewer than 40 cases reported nationwide in the past ten years."

Dr. Bell said that infection from Naegleria fowleri is extremely difficult to contract, requiring very specific circumstances.

"First, you must be swimming in water in which the amoeba is present," she said. "Second, you must jump into the amoeba-containing water feet-first, allowing the water to go up your nose with enough force that the amoeba can make its way to the brain. Most commonly, exposure results in the amoeba dying before causing infection.

"You should avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of fresh water when the water is warm and the water levels are low. Also, you should either hold your nose or use a nose plug. You cannot be infected by merely drinking water containing the amoeba," Dr. Bell said.

The best way to avoid Naegleria fowleri is through prevention:

·         Avoid water-related activities in warm, untreated, or poorly treated water

·         Hold your nose shut or use nose clips when taking part in water-related activities.

·         Avoid digging in or stirring up sediment surrounding warm, fresh water.

Salt water, like the ocean, does not contain Naegleria fowleri. For more information about Naegleria fowleri, visit http://www.scdhec.gov/Health/DiseasesandConditions/InfectiousDiseases/InsectAnimalBorne/ameoba/.

The infection is fatal in about 95 percent of cases, according to DHEC.

"She was just was swimming around with all of her little buddies and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and a little drop of water that had this amoeba in it, one in a bazillion chance or whatever, went in her nose," Dunn Hollingsworth said.

Families who have lost children to the amoeba are fighting to have hospitals keep the experimental medication on hand.

Maclaughlan says two Texas hospitals stock it, as well as one here in South Carolina in Columbia.

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