A 7-year-old boy who spent some time in late July swimming in a northern California lake has died after he contracted an “extremely rare” brain-eating amoeba in the water.
David Pruitt (pictured above) was brought to an emergency room at a local hospital in his home area of Tehama County late last month. From there, he was quickly transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, where he was immediately put on life support to stem “severe” brain swelling. Sadly, he perished after a week in ICU care.
According to a GoFundMe page set up in Pruitt’s honor, the boy died from something called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. The amoeba is found in freshwater and localized ground soils all around the world, with most reports of infection coming out of Florida and Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It wasn’t immediately clear which NorCal lake the boy had been swimming in at the time he contracted the infection. The amoeba is not found in salt water, so that narrows it down a bit.
Crystal Hayley, the boy’s grieving aunt, shared an update on the family’s GoFundMe page last week, revealing the awful news about David’s death. She also asked people to learn the warning signs and symptoms of PAM to protect their own loved ones swimming in freshwater locations, writing:
“We are sad and broken hearted to report, that our sweet little David has passed on. He is now in the loving arms of our Lord and family members who have passed before him. We are rejoicing in knowing he is no longer in pain and in the best of care.
David did contract a devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) from an amoeba found in freshwater and soil around the world. We are still asking any and everyone to donate what you can and to share this information about the amoeba and the PAM illness with as many people as you can. The family is extremely thankful, humbled, and feel so blessed to know people care so deeply for them and have and are still praying for them and have donated what they can to help them during this tragic time.”
According to a press release published by the Tehama County Health Services Agency, the infection is “extremely rare,” with only ten total cases reported in all of California in the 50 years since 1971. Looking at the United States as a whole, the numbers become even more rare. According to the CDC, while millions of swimmers visit American freshwater lakes each year, “only around 1 to 8 people” contract the infection. Still, tragically, when one does contract PAM, it’s almost always a death sentence; the CDC also reports that “only four people out of 148” survived the infection in the U.S. between 1962 and 2019.
PAM has been notoriously hard to detect because of the rapid onset of symptoms and the near-fatal outcome in most patients. Per the CDC, diagnosis is typically made post-mortem. Still, early stage symptoms can include severe headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, and seizures, followed by altered mental states and hallucinations prior to brain swelling and coma.
Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his loving, grieving family during this sad, scary, terrible time.
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