The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has confirmed a case of a rare form of parasitic meningitis. A case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) — a very rare form of meningitis caused by an ameba associated with warm rivers, lakes and streams — was confirmed with the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Based on our ongoing investigation, the most likely source of infection is the Willow Springs Water Park. There was another case of PAM possibly connected with Willow Springs in 2010. Based on the occurrence of two cases of this rare infection in association with the same body of water and the unique features of the park, the ADH has asked the owner of Willow Springs to voluntarily close the water park to ensure the health and safety of the public.
The organism that causes PAM is known as Naegleria fowleri. It is commonly found in warm freshwater and soil all over the world and can cause a rare but severe brain infection that is usually fatal. Naegleria cannot be passed from person-to-person. The organism typically infects people by entering the body through the nose as they are swimming and diving. Individuals cannot be infected with Naegleria by swimming in properly cleaned, maintained and disinfected swimming pools.
While infection with Naegleria can occur anywhere, it usually occurs in the warm southern U.S. From 2003-2012, there have only been 31 reported infections in the U.S. This case is only the sixth case in Arkansas in 40 years.
“We, David and Lou Ann Ratliff, as general management of Willow Springs Water Park, have received new information regarding Naegleria fowleri, and have elected to close the park as of July 25 at the request of the Arkansas Department of Health. Though the odds of contracting Naegleria are extremely low, they are just not good enough to allow our friends or family to swim” said David and Lou Ann Ratliff, owners of Willow Springs. “For the thousands of people who love Willow Springs, we will be taking this time to determine the feasibility of installing a solid bottom to the lake. We will not ever reopen as a sand bottom lake” said Ratliff. “We covet your prayers and our Willow Springs family will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers” added Ratliff.
The first symptoms of PAM start one to seven days after initial infection. If you swam at Willow Springs Water Park more than eight days ago, you are NOT at risk for the infection. Early symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly.
“The risk of infection from Naegleria in Arkansas is exceedingly low,” said Dirk Haselow, MD, State Epidemiologist at ADH.
“Swimming is a healthy summertime activity, and we do not want to discourage people from swimming,” said Haselow. “If concerned about Naegleria, avoid swimming, diving or other activities that push water up the nose, especially in natural waters when temperatures are high and water levels are low.”
Some additional precautions you can take while swimming during extremely warm periods include:
- Keep your head out of the water
- Use nose clips or hold the nose shut
- Avoid stirring up dirt or sand at the bottom of shallow freshwater areas
More information about Naegleria fowleri and safe swimming can be found on the CDC website http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/