Warm water organism kills Sumter County child

Photo courtesy of The Item in Columbia

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says Blake Driggers, 8, has died of a rare brain infection caused by a deadly organism known as Naegleria fowleri.

WLTX in Columbia is reporting Driggers' aunt said he started to complain about not feeling well after swimming in Lake Marion last Saturday.

He died Tuesday, and lab tests confirmed the cause of death Wednesday.

A facebook page dedicated to Blake has been set up.

On it, it says Blake's two sisters, who were swimming with him, are receiving treatment.

"We are saddened to learn that this child was exposed to the deadly organism Naegleria fowleri," said Catherine Templeton, DHEC director. "While this organism is present in many warm water lakes, rivers and streams in the South, infection in humans is extremely rare. Naegleria fowleri almost always results in death."

In a news release Kathleen Antonetti, M.D. and DHEC medical epidemiologist, said that people should seek immediate medical attention after swimming in fresh water if they experience headache, nausea, vomiting, high fever and neck stiffness. Its severity increases very quickly, resulting in death within 1 to 12 days. It cannot be spread from person to person.

Although the Naegleria fowleri ameba is widespread in warm waters, illness occurs only under certain circumstances.

"Water must be forced up the nose, through the nasal passages, so that the ameba is able to travel up to the brain and destroy tissue," Dr. Antonetti said. "People should avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of fresh water when the water is warm and the water levels are low. You cannot be infected by merely drinking water containing the ameba. These infections are so rare, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented only 32 cases in this country from 2001 to 2010."

According to the CDC, Naegleria fowleri is found around the world.

In the United States, the majority of infections have been caused by exposure in freshwater located in southern states.

Typically, the ameba can be found in:

  • Bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes and rivers

  • Geothermal (naturally hot) water, such as hot springs

  • Warm water discharge from industrial plants

  • Geothermal (naturally hot) drinking water sources

  • Soil

  • Swimming pools that are poorly maintained, with either low levels of chlorine or unchlorinated

  • Water heaters with temperatures less than 116°F.

Naegleria fowleri is not found in salt water, like the ocean.