Tests Link Lubbock Death To Amoeba In Lake LBJ - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

9/7/07

Tests Link Lubbock Death To Amoeba In Lake LBJ

A health alert is issued as tests link the death of a Lubbock man to an amoeba found in the waters at Lake LBJ near Austin.

On the same day a memorial was held for Colby Sawyer, tests were released, confirming an amoeba caused the 22-year-old's death. Sawyer died Monday at University Medical Center, just days after coming down with an ear infection that occurred after he ruptured his eardrum in a wake boarding accident at Lake LBJ. That same amoeba also killed a 12-year-old boy from Round Rock three weeks earlier. NewsChannel 11 was the first to alert you of this possible connection on Tuesday.

Amoebas like this are usually present in surface waters and soils, but getting an infection from one is very rare. So rare, you have a 1 in 100 million chance of contracting the disease. Lubbock health officials say it's almost unbelievable that two people contracted the infection from the same body of water within weeks of each other. Since a number of factors that must be present for someone to become ill.

Lubbock County's Chief Medical Examiner Doctor Thomas Beaver says, "It looks like a human cell."

But it's not. Actually it's Naegleria Fowleri, an amoeba that causes the disease Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis also known as PAM.

Naegleria Fowleri is found in warm bodies of water such as rivers, hot springs and even lakes like LBJ.

"You need to get water in your nose so usually that requires diving or submersion," said Doctor Beaver.

In Sawyer's case, he hit the water during a wake boarding accident at Lake LBJ on a hot day and when the water is warm, Doctor Beaver says the amoeba multiplies, making it easier to enter the body.

"The organism might be there in low numbers to begin with. But as the temperatures of the water rise and certainly near 80 degrees, where it needs to be, then this organism can proliferate and get the numbers that are necessary to start having a human infection," Doctor Beaver adds.

Once in the body, the amoeba travels to the brain and spinal cord causing an infection that is usually fatal. Symptoms do not occur right away, they take about seven days to develop. Those include, nose bleeds, headache, stiff neck, and swollen lymph nodes. Symptoms that Doctor Beaver says only occur with the perfection combination.

"It takes some kind of breach in the mechanical barrier to this organism, has to be at a high enough numbers and all of this confluence of events has to happen for infection to occur. Which is why it's rare," Doctor Beaver said.

Again health officials warn that the amoeba does occur naturally and is commonly found in warm water. There have not been any reports of infections from our area, but it can occur most anywhere, so the health department has these tips:

  • 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.

At this time, lake is not closed. Health officials say if the lake was contaminated it would be shut down, but the presence of the amoeba is natural and not considered to be a contaminant.

Since 1972, Texas has seen only 34 cases of PAM.

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