A baby boy has died after catching a brain-eating amoeba while playing in a children’s splash park.
Michael Alexander Pollock III was just 16 months old when he passed away after playing at the park in Little Rock, Arkansas. His devastated family said in a tribute that Michael “touched the hearts of family, friends, and even strangers”.
The Arkansas Department of Health confirmed little Michael contracted the “brain-eating” naegleria fowleri and it is at least the fifth case of a person dying from the illness in the US this year.
“Though Michael’s time on Earth was short, he touched the hearts of family, friends, and even strangers he came across with his illuminating smile and playfulness,” his obituary read.
He died at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and health officials said in a statement the infection was caused when the “individual was likely exposed at the Country Club of Little Rock splash pad”.
“Arkansas Health Department sent multiple samples from the pool and splash pad to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),” the statement said. “The CDC has reported one splash pad sample as confirmed to have viable naegleria fowleri.”
It continued: “Naegleria fowleri cannot infect people if swallowed and is not spread from person to person. The last case reported in Arkansas was in 2013. Only about three people in the United States get infected each year, but these infections are usually fatal.”
Officials said there was “no ongoing risk to the public related to this exposure” and that the country club had closed the splash pad while being cooperative with inquiries.
Naegleria fowleri is “usually fatal,” according to the CDC. It “lives in soil and warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs” and is also known as a “brain-eating amoeba” because it can cause a brain infection.
The infection cannot be caught from drinking water as it has to go up a person’s nose. Initial symptoms, also considered ‘stage one,’ include severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting.
Stage two, the CDC said, can include a coma, hallucinations, an altered mental state, a stiff neck and seizures. Its serious complications are likely one of the reasons why there are only five known survivors in North America.
Only three people in the US get infected each year, but there have been five in 2023. Last month a Texas resident contracted the infection while swimming in Lake Lyndon B. Johnson, around 45 miles northwest of Austin.