Brain-eating amoeba suspected in death of 14-year-old boy

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MINNESOTA — For the second time in a month, a rare and lethal brain-eating amoeba has been blamed for the death of a young person in the U.S.

The deadly microscopic organism may have claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy in Minnesota, health officials say. Hunter Boutain became ill after swimming in Lake Minnewaska. With conditions that worsened as time passed, the boy was pronounced brain dead within 24 hours.

“Hunter’s condition deteriorated throughout the night and he was declared brain dead (Thursday) morning,” the Boutain family said in a statement. “Hunter died surrounded by his family. It is a deeply emotional time for all us.”

“I thank you all for praying for Hunter Boutain,” his older brother, Lee, wrote on his Facebook page. “The Lord didn’t want him to stay on earth. As much as I am hurt I know I can’t love him as much as God.”

On June 16, a 21-year-old woman fell victim to the same organism. She also contracted it while swimming.

Her first symptoms weren’t too suspicious — she suffered from a headache, nausea and vomiting, according to health officials in California. But when these symptoms lingered the next day, she was flown to a hospital in Reno, Nevada.

The unnamed woman later went into cardiac arrest and died. Testing performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta came back positive for evidence of the amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri.

In the case of Boutain, the Minnesota Department of Health investigated the boy’s illness as being caused by “PAM,” a medical condition that simultaneously resembles both meningitis and encephalitis: a brain inflammation. PAM is rare, very deadly, and also caused by the Naegleria fowleri that claimed the California woman’s life.

There have been only 35 cases involving this single-celled amoeba in the United States between 2005 and 2014. Since 1952, there have about 133 known cases. Only three people have survived.

Someone can get infected with PAM from swimming in warm fresh water, such as a lake or river. The amoeba enters the nose, and then goes to the brain, where it causes swelling that is almost always fatal.

Even though it is rare, people should be aware of the potential risks of swimming in lakes. It is important to try to limit how much water goes into one’s nose, as that is how the amoeba enters the body.

According to the CDC, symptoms include headache, fever, vomiting, seizures and hallucinations.

It is not contagious.