Girl Contracts ‘Brain-Eating’ infection from Water Park

Water park injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report on a recent, extremely troubling story out of Arkansas, involving a 12-year-old girl who contracted a deadly ‘brain-eating’ amoeba while she was at a water park in Little Rock. The girl is currently in a medically-induced coma and, if she survives, will be the third person ever to do so.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the Arkansas Department of Health both confirmed the girl’s case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The infection affects the brain and is cause by an amoeba typically found in lake water. PAM is a single-cell organism that thrives most in warm freshwater and can be found in poorly treated swimming pools or water heaters.

In the United States, it is most commonly found in the southern states, where water remains warm for the majority of the year. Officials speculate that she contracted the infection while swimming at Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, as the amoeba is only dangerous when it enters the body through the nose.

Interestingly, humans cannot get sick from simply drinking water contaminated with the amoeba, it has to enter through the nose to reach the brain. To date there have been three reported cases of people diagnosed with PAM after filling their neti pots with contaminated tap water. Once the amoeba enters the nose it travels through the olfactory nerve to the brain, where it destroys brain tissue and causes extreme swelling which is almost always fatal.

The infection progresses quickly: after one week of being infected, a person will experience severe headaches, fevers, nausea and vomiting. After a week, symptoms include stiff neck, loss of balance, hallucinations, confusion and seizures. It only takes about 12 days for the infection to kill them.

About 128 people have been infected with the amoeba in the U.S. between 1962 and 2012, and only one has survived (there has been one other case of survival reported in Mexico). Had the Willow Springs Water Park swimming water been properly cleaned, maintained and disinfected, the girl never would have contracted the amoeba. The water park includes a man-made lake with a sand bottom, which the owners are saying will be covered with a solid bottom. The water park closed after the girl’s infection was confirmed.

Officials affirm that those who swam at Willow Springs over a week ago are not at risk of infection. Though the organism is extremely rare, to avoid amoeba it is best to keep your head out of the water while in warm, freshwater lakes and bodies of water. Use a nose clip or hold your nose shut if you go underwater, and avoid kicking up any dirt or sand at the bottom of the lake.

For those using neti pots with tap water, it is best to disinfect the water first either by boiling it for one minute, filtering it with an absolute pore size of one micron or smaller, or by simply buying distilled or sterile water. PAM is treated with a an array of medications, though it is not yet clear which combinations are most effective; recently, an investigational breast cancer drug, mitefosine, has shown some promise in combination with several other drugs.

Water park lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience advocating on behalf of those seriously injured at public and private swimming pools and water parks. Injuries can occur around water in a number of ways, some more obvious than others. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by the negligence of another, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, emotional distress, or wrongful death.