An Oklahoma family is speaking out after their daughter went for a swim last summer and subsequently died from Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), or “brain-eating amoeba.”
Alonie and Mike McKown had taken 24-year-old daughter Elizabeth Knight for a day of recreation at Lake Murray in August 2015, according to KFOR. Shortly after, Elizabeth developed a headache that continuously worsened.
“Her roommate had said that she woke up stumbling through the house. She was incoherent,” Alonie McKown, Elizabeth’s mother, recalled to KFOR.
Elizabeth was initially diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, but when her condition worsened, doctors began to reconsider.
Mike McKown adds that after hearing that Elizabeth had a history of exposure to freshwater lakes such as Lake Murray, Doctors were led to think of Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis for the first time.
The infection, called “brain-eating amoeba,” occurs when people are infected by an amoeba that breeds in warm, fresh bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and ponds. The amoeba enters and infects the brain through nasal passages. It is a rare infection that infects only about 12 people annually, Dave Cundiff, MD, MPH. told medpagetoday.
But it is deadly to the infected, with a mortality rate of more than 97 percent.
Cundiff said the amoeba has made its way from southern states to northern waters, where cases have now been reported in Minnesota, Kansas, and Indiana. When taken to an emergency department, symptoms are similar to bacterial meningitis, as was Elizabeth’s case. Because PAM cannot be diagnosed with standard labs, reports of fresh water swimming are usually the giveaway.
“They start off usually with a high fever, then nausea and vomiting, and then later develop altered mental status and even coma,” epidemiologist Joli Stone explained to KFOR.
The McKowns can’t bring their daughter back, but they’re speaking out to prevent further occurrences.
Mike told KFOR: “There’s no doubt in our mind that she would want us to do everything we could to prevent this from happening to another family.”