A nine-year-old Virginia boy has died after swimming in water infected by a bug known as the "brain-eating amoeba," according to reports. It was the second such death this month.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Christian Alexander Strickland, 9, of Henrico County, became infected after he went to a fishing camp in the state.
The child died from meningitis Aug. 5 and Bonnie Strickland, his aunt, told the paper that Naegleria fowleri ? or "brain-eating amoeba" as it is sometimes known ? was a suspected cause of the illness.
"The doctor described it to us as such a slight chance that they didn't even think it would be possible," Bonnie Strickland told the Times-Dispatch.
Health department officials told the paper they do not comment on individual cases. However, they confirmed a case of meningitis and an infection by the bug.
"Sadly, we have had a Naegleria infection in Virginia this summer," Dr. Keri Hall, state epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health, in a statement, according to the Times-Dispatch. "It's important that people be aware of ? safe swimming messages."
Naegleria fowleri moves into the body through the nose and destroys brain tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bug causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a nearly always fatal disease of the central nervous system, the CDC reported.
Naegleria fowleri is usually found warm, stagnant water in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers. It can also be found in wells.
No known treatment for infection
Currently, there is no known treatment for people who develop a brain infection with this bug, said Dr. Roy Gulick, chief of infectious disease at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
?It?s a very rare disease,? he explained. ?There have only been 111 cases reported since 1962. So it?s difficult to know what an effective treatment might be.?
The CDC confirmed reports that one person, age unknown, died from a Naegleria fowleri infection in Louisiana in June. And earlier this month, Courtney Nash, 16, died as a result of a Naegleria fowleri infection in Florida after swimming in the St. John's River, ABC News reported.
NBC-affiliate WESH.com reported that Nash was diving off a dock with family at her grandmother's house when it is thought that she caught the disease.
'I didn't get my miracle'
Courtney's mother, Patricia Nash, said that shortly before her death, Courtney had decided to become an organ donor.
She told WESH that both lungs were transplanted and Courtney's liver and pancreas were "performing another miracle for someone else." Her kidneys were also being transplanted.
"I didn't get my miracle, but she has performed other miracles," Patricia Nash said, according to WESH. "If we can save other people's lives so they don't have to go through what I just went though, this could be a blessing in disguise."
Vaccine wouldn't have prevented deaths
Inoculation with the meningitis vaccine wouldn?t have prevented these deaths, said Gulick. That?s because the vaccines target meningitis-causing bacteria, and this is an amoeba.
One of the difficulties facing doctors and researchers is the very rarity of the disease. "People don?t think of the diagnosis,? Gulick said. ?And people usually present two to 15 days after exposure. Death usually results 3 to 7 days after symptoms appear.?
Another problem, he said, is that the symptoms of this kind of brain infection are common to several other illnesses.
?When the amoeba gets into the brain, the symptoms are non specific: fever, nausea, stiff neck, headache,? he said. ?There are many diseases that can cause those kinds of symptoms.?
Still, Gulick said, ?anyone presenting with these symptoms should seek medical attenuation because they can be caused by diseases that are far more common, including viral and bacterial meningitis.?
No evidence of an outbreak
Though two cases might spark fears of an outbreak, Gulick says there?s no evidence to suggest that this is anything other than coincidence.
The best information doctors have, he explained, is from the CDC, which reports that Naegleria fowleri killed 23 people in the U.S. between 1995 and 2004, "including 2 children in the Phoenix, Arizona, area in 2002, who had been exposed to well water but had not consumed it." The agency also reports 6 documented deaths in 2007, all in warmer regions (Arizona, Texas, Florida).
No one knows why some people develop a brain infection while others don?t.
?It?s a very rare infection,? Gulick said. ?Millions are likely exposed, but only a very small percentage develop this."