MANKATO — State health officials are distributing information about the parasite they suspect killed a 14-year-old boy after he swam in a western Minnesota lake.
The boy developed a deadly form of meningitis because of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. His family announced his death Thursday.
The amoeba is found in warm freshwater and soil around the world, according to the health department. It infects people by traveling up the nose to the brain and spinal cord where it destroys the brain tissue.
Infections do not occur as a result of drinking contaminated water and cannot be spread from person to person.
Infections are rare and are more likely to occur in southern states, according to the department. They usually occur during prolonged periods of hot weather that cause higher water temperatures and lower water levels.
Infections are more common in warm southern states, according to the department. Thirty-five cases were reported in the U.S. from 2005 to 2014, including single cases in Minnesota in 2010 and 2012. The department said both cases were linked to a lake in Washington County.
Just over 130 people have been infected in the U.S. over the past five decades, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. The infection had not been detected north of Missouri before 2010, according to the health department.
Jessica Sheehy, a physician assistant and infectious diseases specialist, said risk of infection is very low in a statement released by Mayo Clinic Health System.
She said people who want to take extra precautions should keep their head out of the water while swimming; plug their nose or use a nose clip while swimming; be careful not to stir up sediment in shallow areas; and avoid entering hot springs, as well as warm lakes, ponds and rivers.