Topeka A Kansas resident died this week from what was likely a rare infection by a brain-eating amoeba, giving the state its first documented case, public health officials said Friday.
State and local officials warned residents to avoid activities in warm rivers, lakes and other bodies of heated, fresh water, including ponds near power plants. They said people shouldn't dig into or stir up sediment or put their head under water in such places.
Single deaths from such infections also have been reported this summer in Florida, Louisiana and Virginia. The Centers for Disease Control has said about 120 cases, nearly all of them fatal, have been reported since the early 1960s.
The Kansas victim was from Sedgwick County, but health officials declined to release more information to protect the person's privacy. Sedgwick County spokeswoman Amanda Matthews said the person apparently went swimming in August in the city lake in Winfield, about 30 miles southeast of Wichita, then entered a hospital Aug. 19 complaining of headaches, developed breathing problems and died five days later.
Matthews said the CDC confirmed Thursday that a specimen from the victim initially tested positive for the amoeba. She said more testing will be conducted by the CDC, and the county is awaiting a coroner's report as well, and more information might not be available for several weeks.
"It's unknown, really, why it causes such a rare infection," Matthews said. "Not a lot is known about it because it is so rare."
The amoeba is Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER'-ee-uh FOWL'-er-eye), and it gets up the nose, burrows up into the skull and destroys brain tissue. It's found in warm lake and rivers during the summer, particularly when temperatures rise and water levels fall. Health officials can't say why a few people get the fatal nervous system condition while others don't after swimming or other activities in waters with the amoeba.
"You would see this in the South more than places north of that because water would stay warmer longer," said Miranda Myrick, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "There isn't any testing in place for this as far as regular water inspections."
Myrick noted that while there are reliable tests for detecting such amoeba in water, they're "extremely slow and very expensive."