Child Dies After Being Infected with Brain-Eating Amoeba at Texas Splash Pad

A Texas child died from a rare infection caused by a so-called brain-eating amoeba, which was found in the waters of a city splash pad that he had been visiting.

On September 5, local health officials were notified that a child was hospitalized at Cook Children's Medical Center with "primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and often fatal infection caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba," the City of Arlington wrote in a press release. He died on September 11.

Tarrant County Public Health determined the child was likely exposed to water containing the Naegleria fowleri amoeba either at the family's home or at the park's splash pad, reported CBS News.

What is Naegleria Fowleri?

Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in soil and in fresh warm water such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can also be found in poorly maintained or unchlorinated pools.

According to the CDC, the organism infects people when water carrying the amoeba enters the body through the nose. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain, where it damages brain tissue.

Naegleria fowleri is a heat-loving amoeba and is commonly known as the "brain-eating amoeba."

The fatality rate is over 97%. Only 4 people out of 148 known infected individuals in the United States from 1962 to 2019 have survived. However, one survivor, an 8-year-old boy, suffered likely permanent brain damage.

naegleria fowleri
naegleria fowleri, brain-eating amoeba Wikimedia commons

Presence of the Amoeba at the Don Misenheimer Park Splash Pad

The county health department started an investigation and determined two possible sources for the exposure to the amoeba -- the family's home in Tarrant County and the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad in Arlington, reported CNN.

An analysis of water samples taken from the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad in Arlington, which the child visited three times between late August and early September, confirmed the presence of the amoeba, reported Newsweek.

On September 24, the CDC, according to the news release, determined the child was likely exposed to the organism at the splash pad after tests confirmed the presence of active Naegleria fowleri amoeba in water samples from the park.

"It breaks my heart. I'm a father of four, a grandfather of five kids from 2 to 7 years old. I cannot imagine having to bury a child or a grandchild like that," Arlington Mayor Jim Ross told CNN affiliate KTVT.

Lapses in Water-Quality Testing

City officials told The Associated Press that two of the four splash pads in town had inconsistencies in their testing logs. In some cases, Parks and Recreation employees failed to record the water chlorination levels or did not test the water at all.

"We have identified gaps in our daily inspection program," Deputy City Manager Lemuel Randolph told new sources. "Those gaps resulted in us not meeting our maintenance standards at our splash pads.