Child develops brain-eating amoeba infection after swimming in Minnesota lake

FOX 9 News (KMSP) -- The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating a case of suspected primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) in a critically ill child. Health officials determined 14-year-old Hunter Boutain developed the infection after swimming at Lake Minnewaska, just south of Alexandria, Minn.

Boutain, of Alexandria, Minn., is being treated for the infection at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. His family said he is currently in a coma and needs help breathing.

"As of this afternoon (7/8/15) Hunter is still in the hospital and remains in critical condition," Bryan Boutain, Hunter's uncle, said. "This is a difficult time for our family. We are grateful for the support we've received, and welcome everyone's continued prayers."

PAM is a very rare and most often fatal brain infection caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, found in freshwater and soil all over the world.  The amoeba can infect people by entering the body through the nose. This usually happens when people get water up their nose from swimming and diving in warm freshwater. It's not known to be something people can get by swallowing the water.

Heidi Lameyer knows the nightmare all too well, her daughter died from a brain infection suspected to be PAM in August of 2008.

"She neurologically declined to the point where she couldn’t walk or talk," Lameyer told Fox 9.  "She was having hallucinations and wasn’t making any sense to us. That was very frightening.”

Lameyer said her daughter Hailee became ill on a Wednesday and was dead by Saturday. She has started a group with the family of another victim urging precautions like nose plugs and keeping heads and faces out of the water.

"If it is your child, it’s not rare," Lameyer said. "It’s 100 percent in your face.”

The infections are most common in southern states. Prior to the confirmation of a case in Minnesota in 2010, the infection had not been detected north of Missouri. There were 35 total cases reported in the United States from 2005 through 2014, with two confirmed cases in Minnesota in 2010 and 2012.


Initial symptoms of PAM start about 5 days (range, 1 to 7 days) after infection. The initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.

After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within 5 days (range, 1 to 12 days).

The infection cannot be spread from one person to another.

Prevention tips

According to MDH Waterborne Diseases Unit Supervisor Trisha Robinson, there are a few tips that may help reduce the risk of infection when using any lake, river or other freshwater body.

“There is a low-level risk of infection from Naegleria in any freshwater,” Robinson said. “While the only sure way to prevent PAM is to avoid participation in freshwater-related activities, you can reduce your risk by keeping your head out of the water, using nose clips or holding the nose shut, and avoiding stirring up sediment at the bottom of shallow freshwater areas.”

Information provided from the Minnesota Department of Health