GLEN ROSE – Authorities are advising local swimmers, wake boarders and water skiers to be wary of a deadly amoeba that can cause a fatal brain infection.
Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis, or PAM, is described as a “brain-eating parasite” that is caused by the water-born amoeba Naegleria Fowleri. It is commonly found in bodies of fresh water such as rivers and lakes.
The infection, which progresses quickly, has caused eight deaths (out of nine cases) in Texas since 2005.
One of those deaths took place on Aug. 29, 2010. The PAM brain infection caused the death of 7-year-old Kyle Lewis, who had been swimming in the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose a week earlier.
In the wake of his death, Kyle’s parents went on to establish “Kyle Cares,” the Kyle Lewis Amoeba Awareness Foundation. It focuses on educating families and medical professionals about the potential danger of Naegleria Fowleri.
Jeremy Lewis, Kyle’s father, said this deadly amoeba can be found in all fresh bodies of water, whether those bodies are stagnant or not.
“It has been found in tap water in certain states,” Jeremy Lewis explained. “So it is not confined to stagnant water. That is one of the biggest misconceptions about the amoeba. It’s where a false sense of security comes from. We have found it in lakes all over.”
For instance, Lewis said, the amoeba has been found all over Lake Granbury, the area in which his parents live.
And really, Jeremy Lewis said, vigilance is the only way to prevent the loss of life in this situation. He recommends using nose plugs or holding one’s nose when in the water.
“We always tell people that swimming isn’t worth the lives of their kids,” Jeremy Lewis said. “You just have to choose to do something else. … These cases have been around forever, but only now has there been enough exposure for us to learn about it.”
Taylor Sexton, a North Texas epidemiologist circulating information about the PAM threat, said the recent increase in local rainfall “may make it more likely to find pools of stagnant water that can be a reservoir for the amoebae.”
In addition to rivers and lakes, there also is a risk of contracting the infection from swimming pools that are poorly maintained and insufficiently chlorinated, Sexton added.
The epidemiologist also urged Glen Rose residents to stay vigilant to identify the amoeba – but not to the point of causing panic or disrupting the general areas where people swim.
“You’ll be able to tell the symptoms,” Sexton said. “So if you do, please get them to a doctor right away. … This has shown up everywhere – and that’s the big risk factor.”
Symptoms of PAM infection include a sudden and severe frontal headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Other symptoms include a stiff neck, loss of the sense of smell, confusion, and occasional seizures, according to the 2009 journal, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases.
Should these symptoms remain unaddressed, they can rapidly progress to a coma and death, the journal states.
Jeremy Lewis said he has gone to great lengths to combat the danger of PAM – going as far as to help bring Miltefosine, a former cancer treatment drug from Germany to the United States.
The Midlothian resident said he has spoken to pharmaceutical companies across the country and world and worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to make this happen.
In 2013, the CDC announced that it would maintain a supply of Miltefosine to dispense on a case-by-case basis.
That drug was successful in saving the lives of two children – one in Arkansas and another in San Antonio.
The foundation is helping plan distribution of the drug to a system of hospitals that can carry Miltefosine.
It is hoped the network will be able to include facilities in central hub areas such as Texas, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Minnesota, California and Nebraska.
Jeremy Lewis said Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth is the first hospital in the United States to receive a stockpile of Miltefosine.
Medical officials there have the ability to dispense it to other hospitals in the region and nation when needed, he said.
Officials with the Texas Department of State Health Services, meanwhile, are trying to promote public awareness of the threat.
TDSH recently issued a list of suggested ways to avoid the deadly amoeba:
• Do not swim, ski, dive or jump into stagnant water.
• Hold your nose or use nose clips when jumping, skiing, diving, or wakeboarding in any fresh water.
• Avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs and other warm fresh water bodies.
• Be sure to use only sterile, distilled or lukewarm previously boiled water – if you use a Neti-Pot or syringe for nasal irrigation or participate in ritual nasal rinsing.
• Avoid digging in, or stirring up, mud and scum while taking part in water
related activities in shallow, warm, freshwater areas.