Amoeba deaths are rare, health of­fi­cials say



— County health of­fi­cials re­peated Tues­day what they had said last month when they first learned of the death of a New York woman from a rare brain disease de­ter­mined by of­fi­cials to be likely con­tracted in Ce­cil County: it’s “very rare.”

Ce­cil County Health Of­fi­cer Stephanie Gar­rity and Clin­i­cal Deputy Health Of­fi­cer Dr. Henry Tay­lor up­dated the Ce­cil County Coun­cil Tues­day on the in­ci­dent, at the coun­cil’s re­quest. It was part of a Board of Health pre­sen­ta­tion, which in­cluded an over­view of the county’s re­cently com­pleted com­mu­nity health im­prove­ment plan.

The New York De­part­ment of Health con­firmed on Sept. 2 that 19-year-old Kerry Stouten­burgh died from the Nae­g­le­ria fow­leri amoeba, also known as the “brain-eat­ing amoeba,” and likely con­tracted it while swim­ming in Ce­cil County while on va­ca­tion in Au­gust.

Stouten­burgh was in Ce­cil County vis­it­ing her un­cle, Harold T. O’Neal Jr., of Elk­ton.

O’Neal told the Ce­cil Whig in early Septem­ber that Stouten­burgh jumped into North­east Creek and


Oc­toraro Creek to swim while here.

“How­ever, she was di­ag­nosed, hos­pi­tal­ized and died af­ter re­turn­ing home to New York,” Tay­lor said.

“There are only about three to four deaths a year in the na­tion from this amoeba,” Gar­rity told the county coun­cil Tues­day. It is nat­u­rally present in bod­ies of warm fresh­wa­ter and is very wide­spread, es­pe­cially in the south­ern states, she ex­plained.

“The best pre­ven­tive ac­tion is al­most too sim­ple,” Gar­rity said. “Keep wa­ter out of your nose.”

Re­search shows the amoeba en­ters the body di­rectly through the nose. Most com­mon symp­toms are headaches, stiff neck and fever, which are menin­gi­tis-like symp­toms. Gar­rity rec­om­mends telling a doc­tor im­me­di­ately if you have those symp­toms and were swim­ming in fresh­wa­ter re­cently.

“I was re­ally wor­ried about the pos­si­ble im­pact on our tourism when I heard about this,” Coun­cil- man Dan Sch­neck­en­burger said.

Tay­lor said there is medicine avail­able to treat this if caught early enough and the doc­tor knows the pa­tient had been swim­ming.

“The risk of con­tract­ing this in­fec­tion is very low, but it is present in any warm body of fresh­wa­ter,” Tay­lor em­pha­sized. “There’s re­ally no rea­son not to swim here.”

Health of­fi­cials ad­vise us­ing nose clips, or hold­ing one’s nose, if swim­ming in fresh wa­ter. Post­ing signs is un­likely to be an ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent in­fec­tions, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, be­cause the Nae­g­le­ria fow­leri oc­cur­rence is com­mon, but in­fec­tions are rare.

Symp­toms start one to nine days af­ter ex­po­sure to the amoeba, while fa­tal­i­ties oc­cur any­where from one to 18 days af­ter ex­po­sure. The amoeba trav­els up the ol­fac­tory nerve to the brain where it can cause in­fec­tion.

Dan Coul­ter, health pol­icy an­a­lyst for the health de­part­ment, pre­sented the county’s up­dated com­mu­nity health plan to the county coun­cil Tues­day, as well.

It fo­cuses on three pri­or­i­ties: be­hav­ioral health, chronic disease and de­ter­mi­nants of health, such as home­less­ness and poverty.

“These are the goals for the next three years,” Coul­ter said.

The plan de­tails spe­cific goals within each pri­or­ity and lays out a method to mea­sure whether the goals have been reached.

“This is a very ro­bust plan,” Gar­rity said. “But, I think it can be reached with a co­or­di­nated ef­fort.”


Daniel Coul­ter, health pol­icy an­a­lyst, from left; Dr. Henry Tay­lor, county clin­i­cal di­rec­tor, and Fred von Staden, county en­vi­ron­men­tal health di­rec­tor, ad­dress coun­cil con­cerns about a rare amoeba death ear­lier this year.

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