Man dies after contracting rare brain-eating amoeba in US water park

A silhouetted figure sliding down a waterslide, enjoying the summer sun
Photo credit: Getty

A man has died after being infected with a brain-eating amoeba while swimming at a water park in the United States.

The man was in a manmade lake at Fantasy Lake Water Park in North Carolina when he became infected by Naegleria foweri, according to North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services. 

The single-celled organism occurs naturally in warm freshwater during the summer, and can be fatal if forced up the nose, though does not cause illness if swallowed. Symptoms for the illness start with severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, before progressing to stiff neck, seizures and a state of coma, the health agency said.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection acts by destroying brain tissue causing brain swelling and then death.  

The man became sick after swimming in the lake on July 12. 

"Our sympathies are with the family and loved ones," said the state's epidemiologist Zack Moore. "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." 

Authorities said the infection is rare, with only 145 known cases occurring in the United States between 1962 and 2018, with five of those in North Carolina. 

According to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, the infection, which is also known as primary amoebic Meningoencephalitis, was linked to eight fatalities here between 1968 and 1978, and one further death in 2000.