The family of a teen boy says he died from a brain-eating amoeba after vacationing at a North Florida campground last month, local TV station WJXT reports. Tanner Lake Wall, 13, of Palatka, Florida, had been at the vacation spot, which also includes a water park and lake, before he suddenly fell ill days later, according to his parents.
“He was just somebody you always wanted to be around,” Travis Wall, the boy’s father, said. His mother said the teen was very active and loved the outdoors. Wall’s initial symptoms included nausea, vomiting, stiff neck and severe headaches.
Wall’s parents took him to a hospital in Gainesville, Florida, where doctors put the teen on a ventilator and gave the family a grim diagnosis. “They said, ‘He has a parasitic amoeba and there is no cure,'” his father told the station. Wall was taken off life support on August 2 after he showed no brain activity.
Wall’s parents are hoping their tragic story informs other families of the dangers of this potentially deadly infection. “So parents are aware, maybe they weren’t thinking about it because I can sure tell you we weren’t,” Travis Wall said. “We grew up swimming in ponds and creeks and stuff like that.”
The CDC says Naegleria fowleri — otherwise known as a “brain-eating amoeba” — can cause infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. The amoebas are usually found in fresh water, such as lakes rivers and springs.
The CDC warns that if contaminated water enters a person’s nose and into the brain, infection can occur. Symptoms start as severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting; symptoms can then progress to stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and coma.
Signs of infection typically start a few days after swimming or other nasal exposure to contaminated water. People die within one to 18 days after symptoms begin. However, the CDC says people cannot be infected by swallowing contaminated water.
The Wall family told WJXT they want warning signs put up informing others about the dangers of swimming in warm waters during the summer. The station didn’t identify the campground the Wall family said they visited, since officials haven’t positively traced Wall’s sickness to that location yet.
“People need to be aware from July to the latter part of September, with the hot waters, that this amoeba, it can come up your nose. It can be diving. It can be swimming, water sports, skiing, things like that,” Travis Wall explained.
According to the CDC, Naegleria fowleri infections are rare. Between 2009 and 2018, there have been 34 infections reported in the U.S. In a majority of the cases, the CDC notes, people were infected in recreational water, while three were infected after performing nasal irrigation using contaminated tap water. One person was infected by contaminated tap water used on a backyard slip-n-slide.