Science and Health

Kansas Girl Dies After Contracting Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba

A young girl died after doctors say she was infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba. But what exactly is this amoeba? And how do people get infected?

Kansas Girl Dies After Contracting Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A nine-year-old Kansas girl is dead after doctors say she contracted an extremely rare brain-eating amoeba earlier this week.

"Hally Yust passed away on Wednesday after an amoeba, known to inhabit lakes in this area, made its way into her body." (Via KCTV)

According to KCTV, Hally was an avid water skier, and doctors say she contracted the deadly infection after swimming in several local lakes during the last two weeks.

She was taken to the hospital earlier this week with meningitis-like symptoms, and testing revealed she had been infected. She died soon after.

The amoeba that took Hally's life is called Naegleria fowleri. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it can be found in fresh water sources, like lakes, rivers and hot springs. 

The infection is extremely rare. Fox News reports less than 200 cases in the U.S. have been reported in the last 50 years. But once it's contracted, the amoeba is more often than not fatal.

"The ameoba go into the nose and go directly in the brain. And then it causes infection in the spinal fluid all around the brain. And then the fact that there is swelling in the whole brain causes seizures, coma, and that's what leads to death." (Via KSHB)

A fact sheet from the CDC says Naegleria fowleri infections are more common in young boys. Exactly why is unclear, but officials claim boys are often more likely to participate in more fresh water-related activities and, therefore, have more chances to contract the amoeba.

Swimming in bodies of warm freshwater is the most common means of infection.

But people using contaminated drinking water to rinse their sinuses using a neti pot are also at risk. (Via Bob Kieffer / CC by NC ND 2.0)

Doctors say prevention is as easy as using nose plugs while swimming in bodies of warm freshwater and making sure to use distilled water when rinsing the sinuses. (Via YouTube / ShannieKM97)

But, again, chances of contracting the amoeba are extremely rare. And Hally's parents say they don't want their daughter's death to scare anyone away from enjoying the water because she loved it so much.

"It must have been a little boring in heaven the last few weeks, and so God looked around the Earth, and he found the most interesting, dynamic, fantastic person he could, and he said, 'Hally you've gotta come be with me.'" (Via WDAF)

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says additional testing on Hally's brain will be conducted by the CDC. This is the second known case of the infection in Kansas since 2011.