ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s been positively sweltering over the last few days. The heat wave is the perfect excuse to go for a dip in the pool, maybe a local pond or lake, but while putting on protective sunscreen or water shoes, no one ever thinks to take caution against “naegleria fowleri”, a deadly, brain-eating amoeba.
“I had never heard of it. No one in our family has ever heard of it. We didn’t even know how bad it was until you start Googling,” says Ariel Quirk of Guilderland.
She says several years ago, some members of her extended family moved from New York down to Florida. Among them, was her 13-year-old nephew Caleb.
Caleb and his family had recently tried escaping the heat by going swimming at a freshwater beach. A few days later, Caleb complained of headaches and fever, but his parents and pediatrician weren’t worried until the symptoms suddenly spiked.
“He was just lying on the couch watching TV, and he said something odd. He said, why did you throw that baseball? You know, the family was like what are you talking about? Obviously, he was hallucinating at that point and that was the moment they got in the car and immediately drove to the hospital,” Quirk explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Now, she says Caleb is fighting for his life against the parasite, and “doctors are throwing anything they can at him”. She says he’s gone from having MRIs every day to monitor any brain swelling down to one every other day, and he’s no longer sedated or on a ventilator, though he still struggles to breathe on his own.
The CDC says it’s incredibly rare to get sick from “naegleria fowleri” and it’s most common in southern states, but the amoeba can live in any warm, fresh water, like ponds, lakes, and even pools or your home water heater if they’re not properly treated.
Infections linked to freshwater swimming mostly occur during the heat of summer in July and August in the northern hemisphere when water temperatures peak and water levels are low. Infections can increase during heat wave years as water temperatures increase.Centers for Disease Control
The amoeba only becomes deadly if it gets far enough into your nose to reach nerves connected to your brain. The CDC says while there’s not enough hard evidence to either treat or prevents infection, there are some common sense practices to protect yourself:
- Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
- Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
- Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature.
- Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
Ariel says no matter how slim the chances are, her nephew is now one of those rare cases, and everyone should consider the possibilities.
“We didn’t even know this thing existed. I can’t even tell you how many times my own kids have swam in lakes and ponds and rivers. It can happen to anyone. No one should have to go through what this entire family is going through,” she says.
She says Caleb’s parents haven’t left his side since he was diagnosed. A GoFundMe has been set up to help cover Caleb’s medical costs and financial burden on the family.