Man Killed by Brain-Eating Amoeba After Swimming in North Carolina Water Park Is Identified

By The Associated Press

A North Carolina man has died from a rare brain-eating amoeba after swimming in a man-made lake at a water park, officials said July 24.

The victim, Eddy Gray got sick and died after swimming at the Fantasy Lake Water Park on July 12, according to WTVD.

His family has asked “for privacy and respect during this difficult time,” his wife’s attorney, Justin Plummer, told the station.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources said in a news release that the infection was caused by the amoeba naturally present in warm freshwater during the summer. Gray became sick after swimming in Fantasy Lake Water Park in Hope Mills in Cumberland County on July 12.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed it was caused by Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled organism known as the brain-eating amoeba. It can be fatal if forced up the nose but does not cause illness if swallowed. Symptoms typically begin with severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and progress to stiff neck, seizures and coma.

The amoeba can cause severe illness up to nine days after exposure.

brain tissue attacked by N. fowleri
Brrain tissue that has been attacked by naegleria fowleri, also called “the brain-eating amoeba.” (George R. Healy/CDC)

Health officials say the amoeba is known to have infected just 145 people in the U.S. from 1962 through 2018. Five of those cases occurred in North Carolina.

“Our sympathies are with the family and loved ones,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore, M.D. “People should be aware that this organism is present in warm freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs across North Carolina, so be mindful as you swim or enjoy water sports.”

The amoeba also killed an Ohio college student who went underwater at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte in 2016. The family of 18-year-old Lauren Seitz of Westerville, Ohio, settled a wrongful-death complaint in April. Seitz died 11 days after being thrown overboard and going underwater at the center during a 2016 church trip.

More on Amoeba

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in warm freshwaters such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs, in addition to soil.

“Naegleria fowleri usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the ameba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is usually fatal,” it stated.

“Infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, Naegleria infections can occur if contaminated water from other sources, such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water, or heated and contaminated tap water enters the nose. You cannot get infected from swallowing water contaminated with Naegleria.”

Stage 1 symptoms include fever, nausea, and severe frontal headache; later symptoms include a stiff neck, seizures, and hallucinations.

There are only five known survivors of the disease in North America, the agency noted.

NTD reporter Zachary Stieber and The CNN Wire contributed to this article.