Lubbock Man's Death Caused by Amoeba At Austin Lake - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

9/7/07

Lubbock Man's Death Caused by Amoeba At Austin Lake

The death of a 22-year-old Lubbock man is prompting a health alert from the City of Lubbock.

Lubbock tests now confirm Colby Sawyer's death was caused by an amoeba at Lake LBJ near Austin. It's the same amoeba that killed a 12-year-old boy from Round Rock.

NewsChannel 11 was the first to alert you of this possible connection on Tuesday.

A memorial service was held for Colby Sawyer in Lubbock Friday afternoon. The 22-year-old died Monday at University Medical Center after coming down with an ear infection at Lake LBJ.

There, he had a wake boarding accident that ruptured his ear drum.

An autopsy revealed evidence of swelling in the brain, which may have been caused by a parasitic or bacterial infection.

Friday, the Lubbock County Medical Examiner was able to confirm that Sawyer's death was caused by a parasitic infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis also known as PAM.

PAM is caused by an amoeba, Naegleria which is found in warm bodies of fresh water such as rivers, hot springs and even lakes. Exposure occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose while the person is swimming or diving, which in Sawyer's case was while he was out on Lake LBJ.

That amoeba then travels to the brain and spinal cord, but here's what's really interesting you have a 1 in 100,000,000 chance of contracting the disease. Health officials say it's almost unbelievable that two people contracted the infection from the same body of water within weeks of each other. A reason why experts say they would not swim in Lake LBJ in particular until temps drop.

"I wouldn't swim in the lake. The temperature of the water has to come down before you go swimming, simple as that," says Dr. Thomas Beaver, Chief Medical Examiner.

So if you swam at Lake LBJ even a few weeks ago, you are in the clear because you would have experienced these initial signs and symptoms of PAM, which include nausea and vomiting and stiff neck.

The disease progresses rapidly and the infection usually results in death. Symptoms do not occur right away usually three to five days later. There is no cure for PAM.

It's important to point out that we haven't had any reports of this type of infection from any local or area lakes, but health officials warn that this organism does occur naturally and could be found in any warm water.

The Health Department hopes you will follow some safety tips to protect your family.

  • Individuals should avoid swimming during times of high temperature and low water levels.
  • Avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of warm fresh water and warm shallow water.
  • Avoid swimming in thermally polluted water.
  • Do not swim in areas posted as no swimming.

Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when jumping or diving into bodies of fresh water. Also people with breaks in the skin or wounds are susceptible to contracting infections from other bacteria that may be in the water as well.

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