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Missouri resident contracts rare infection that destroys brain tissue

Ripples on a lake
Ripples on a lake

Naegleria Fowleri has been identified in Missouri just one other time before now.

A Missouri resident is being treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit for a naegleria fowleriinfection, health officials say.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said naegleria fowleri is a microscopic single-celled free-living amoeba that can cause a rare life-threatening infection of the brain. The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers and ponds, but the infection is extremely rare.

There have only been 154 cases identified in the U.S. since 1962. The only other case identified in a Missouri resident was in 1987.

Naegleria fowleri ameba enters the body through the nose then travels to the brain where it destroys brain tissue. It cannot be passed from person to person and cannot be contracted by swallowing contaminated water.

Public health officials said in a news release that the source of the patient’s exposure is currently being investigated. Local and out-of-state activity are being considered, they said.

But a news release from the Iowa Department of Health states that a naegleria fowleri infection has been identified in a Missouri resident who swam at Lake of Three Fires in Taylor County, Iowa. The beach at that lake has been closed temporarily for swimming.

Testing to confirm the presence of the amoeba in the lake is being conducted in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and could take several weeks, the statement said.

Officials offer this advise

While the infection is rare, public health officials advise those swimming in freshwater lakes, rivers and ponds to hold their nose if they go underwater; avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs; avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature; and avoid digging up or stirring up sediment while in shallow, warm freshwater areas.


Symptoms of a naegleria fowleri infection include severe headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status and hallucinations.

If you experience those symptoms after swimming in any warm body of water, seek medical care immediately.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.