Pos­si­ble Ce­cil wa­ter ties ex­plored in rare death

Teen con­tracted amoeba in Conowingo creek, un­cle says

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - IS­SUE By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— The un­cle of a New York woman who re­cently died from a rare brain in­fec­tion be­lieves she con­tracted the dis­ease while swim­ming in Conowingo last month.

“Peo­ple need to know about this,” Harold T.

ELK­TON

O’Neal Jr., of Elk­ton, said Fri­day.

Kerry A. Stouten­burgh, 19, from Brook­lyn, N.Y., died last Wed­nes­day. On Fri­day af­ter­noon, New York State De­part­ment of Health of­fi­cials con­firmed that Stouten­burgh died of Nae­g­le­ria fow­leri amoeba, which is is com­monly found in warm fresh­wa­ter lakes, rivers and hot springs.

Fam­ily mem­bers re­ported that Stouten­burgh swam in lo­cal wa­ters while on va­ca­tion with fam­ily in Mary­land and Delaware a month ago.

O’Neal said Stouten­bergh was vis­it­ing his Elk­ton home when she, her sis­ter, her boyfriend and three cousins — O’Neal’s chil­dren — de­cided to go swim­ming.

“They first went up to Gilpin Falls by Ce­cil Col­lege,” O’Neal said Fri­day. “Then they went to the tres­tle bridge in Conowingo. They were jump­ing off this bridge.”

A pop­u­lar swim­ming hole in the Row­landsville area, it’s part of the Oc­toraro

Creek’s main stem. How­ever, it’s fresh­wa­ter, shal­low in many places and warmer, mak­ing it the per­fect breed­ing ground for the or­gan­ism that health of­fi­cials in New York say killed the oth­er­wise healthy 19-year-old.

Stouten­bergh was the only one in her group sick­ened. Ac­cord­ing to O’Neal, doc­tors told the fam­ily this was “like a light­ning strike” be­cause of the ran­dom­ness of the at­tack.

“There was no aware­ness,” O’Neal said, adding that had he known he would have told them not to swim there.

He said he hoped his niece’s death was not in vain, and that wanted to raise aware­ness so oth­ers use cau­tion when swim­ming in such wa­ter.

Stephanie Gar­rity, Ce­cil County Health Of­fi­cer, said Mary­land health of­fi­cials are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Gar­rity has been in con­tact with the Mary­land De­part­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene on the case, which has in turn been com­mu­ni­cat­ing with its New York coun­ter­part.

Nae­g­le­ria fow­leri is a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring or­gan­ism found in warm fresh­wa­ters, Gar­rity said. Last week­end, while vis­it­ing her par­ents in New York, Stouten­bergh de­vel­oped a headache and nau­sea, which led to in­co­her­ence and later her death.

Dr. Henry Tay­lor, clin­i­cal deputy health of­fi­cer for the Ce­cil County Health De­part­ment, said this rare dis­ease is a form of menin­gi­tis.

“It’s pretty rapidly fa­tal,” Tay­lor said. “Un­less (health pro­fes­sion­als) are look­ing for it they won’t be sus­pi­cious.”

That’s why Tay­lor said peo­ple with menin­gi­tis symp­toms such as headache and neck pain — who have been swim­ming re­cently in fresh­wa­ter — need to bring that up to health care providers.

“If di­ag­nosed early there are some treat­ments that are 95 per­cent ef­fec­tive,” he said.

Stouten­burgh is be­lieved to be the first per­son in New York or Mary­land to die from the ex­tremely rare par­a­site. She was a var­sity swim­mer at Kingston High School and was at­tend­ing CUNY Brook­lyn Col­lege, where she ma­jored in film.

Deaths from the “braineat­ing amoeba” are quite rare and more typ­i­cally found in south­ern states. Ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol statis­tics, fewer than 200 peo­ple have died from Nae­g­le­ri­asis in the past 50 years.

“This is tragic and we very much ex­tend our con­do­lences to the fam­ily,” Gar­rity said Fri­day.

She said the dis­ease en­ters the body through the nose and gets quickly to the brain. Gar­rity called this “an un­for­tu­nate re­minder ... of the low level risk of bac­te­ria” when swim­ming in fresh­wa­ter.

Ac­cord­ing to Gar­rity, there is more risk — al­beit still a low risk — of con­tract­ing E coli rather than amoe­bic en­cephali­tis.

“This was a sur­prise to all of us,” Gar­rity said.

Those who choose to swim in lo­cal rivers are en­cour­aged to take steps to lessen that risk, Gar­rity said.

“Hold your nose when jump­ing in and keep your head above wa­ter,” she said. Us­ing a nose clip could help too, she noted.

Tay­lor also sug­gested that peo­ple who do get wa­ter up the nose get it out quickly.

“If any­thing good can come of this, it’s that height­ened aware­ness of these sorts of things and what you can do to lessen the risk,” Gar­rity said. “Be vig­i­lant, be aware.”

O’Neal said he was wor­ried that other cases could oc­cur if oth­ers aren’t vig­i­lant.

“If it’s there, it could be in other sim­i­lar bod­ies of wa­ter,” he said. “This thing’s out there.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF GOFUNDME

Kerry A. Stouten­burgh, 19, from Brook­lyn, N.Y., died last week from a rare brain in­fec­tion that she may have con­tracted from amoeba in a Ce­cil County creek.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

Don Lebo poses with a sphere bearing “Hope, Md.,”the name that his late wife had given their idyl­lic model train town.

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