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Brain-Eating Amoeba Eyed in Death of Ohio Teen

The 18-year-old died from meningoencephalitis, a representative from the school district where she attended said. It is a rare infection.
The deadly amoeba Naegleria fowleri inhabits freshwater according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.CDC

An 18-year-old Ohio woman died after apparently contracting a brain-eating amoeba while swimming out of state, it was reported Tuesday.

A representative with Westerville City Schools, where the woman attended school, told NBC station WCMH in Columbus that the woman contracted meningoencephalitis. The woman was not identified and the exact location where she went swimming was not specified.

The amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, usually enters the body through the nose, and the organism inhabits freshwater, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The deadly amoeba Naegleria fowleri inhabits freshwater according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.CDC

In rare instances the amoeba can attach to one of the nerves that takes smell signals to the brain. There, the amoeba reproduces and the brain swelling and infection that follows is almost always deadly.

The amoeba can cause an infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, the CDC said.

It is rare: The CDC said only 138 cases have been reported from 1962 to 2015. Only three people survived.

Texas and Florida lead in reported cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis during that time frame. California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia are the next highest, with between five and nine cases each, according to the CDC.

The infection has never been shown to have been spread from one person to another, the agency said. People do not get infected by drinking tap water, but the amoeba was found in tap water in St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans in 2013 and again in 2015.

The Franklin County Health Department is investigating the death in Ohio, WCMH reported. The state where the infection occurred was not released.

A 24-year-old Oklahoma woman died of primary amebic meningoencephalitis after swimming in Lake Murray in 2015, NBC affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma City reported. Elizabeth Knight’s family used the tragedy to raise awareness of the infection, and urged swimmers to use nose plugs or pinch their nose while swimming.

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis had been suspected of causing the death of a Minnesota child in 2015, but tests later confirmed a bacterial streptococcal meningoencephalitis was to blame.