South Carolina health officials say a patient has been confirmed for a water-based amoeba that attacks the brain after swimming in a Lowcountry river.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said Tuesday that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed the patient was exposed to the organism Naegleria fowleri. N.fowleri is often described as a “brain-eating amoeba” due to the damage it can cause on a patient.
DHEC believes the patient was exposed to the amoeba during a swim two weeks ago at Martin’s Landing in the Edisto River, roughly 30 miles west of Charleston near Jacksonboro.
The agency is not releasing any personal information about the patient, due to federal privacy laws.
“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,” state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said in a statement. “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.”
N. fowleri can be extremely deadly if it does cause infection. An Ohio teen died while rafting at a whitewater center near Charlotte in June in a case that health officials also blamed on the amoeba.