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A health alert on the state and county level: rare brain-eating amoeba in Elkhorn River might be the reason for child’s death

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Nebraska — The Douglas County Health Department suspects that a child’s death was caused by a rare brain-eating amoeba.

If confirmed by test findings, Nebraska Health and Human Services said the death would be the first of its kind in the state.

Sunday, the child is believed to have contracted the disease while swimming in the Elkhorn River. There are currently no facts regarding the actual location of the river.

Some individuals claim that they will not return to the sea because of the warning alone.

Dr. Mark Rupp, an infectious disease expert at UNMC, says he understands why some people are fearful, despite the fact that just a handful of cases are reported year in the United States.

“We have millions and millions of people who are enjoying recreation on freshwater lakes and streams and rivers. Many of those if you go and you sample them, you will find this amoeba present,” Rupp said.

The Hester family wrapped up a trip to the Elkhorn River Wednesday.

“Just float. Sometimes kayak, sometimes tubing,” said Chithauta Hester.

They are taking the health officials’ advice seriously, as this will be their last visit for some time.

“I’m a little disappointed, we were hoping to come back here again next week but I guess that’s not going to be in the plans this time,” Hester said.

While rare, Rupp says the amoeba is nearly always fatal.

“We think when people dive or jump into that kind of water, they get inoculation of water up the nose and then it gains access to the central nervous system and then the brain,” Rupp said.

Rupp and Douglas County Health recommend taking precautions near rivers, lakes, and streams.

This necessitates maintaining one’s head above water or closing one’s nose.

You should also avoid excavating or agitating the sediment at the lake or river’s bottom.

“It’s not really deep enough to do a lot of drifting, you have to do a lot of walking. So that probably makes it a lot worse,” Hester said.

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