Johnson County, Kan., resident dies after infection from 'brain-eating amoeba'

A Johnson County resident has died following an infection caused by an amoeba found in freshwater, according to the Kansas Department of Health.

Authorities were unable to determine the source of the infection, citing "several potential fresh water exposures in Kansas," the department stated in a news release.

The victim has been identified as 9-year-old Hally Yust of Spring Hill, Kansas. The following information was posted on the Facebook page of the Kansas Water Ski Federation .

On July 8th our family suffered a devastating loss. Hally Yust, 9 of Spring Hill, KS fell victim to a rare bacterial infection that took her life. Hally was an amazing child that had become great friends with many of the other children at Mokan Ski Club and was considered our family. Her loss is one that will be felt for years to come. However we will always remember the great joy that she gave us. Our deepest condolences go to the Yust family and all of their loved ones impacted by this shocking loss.

Hally's family released the following statement: 

Our precious daughter Hally loved life and part of her great joy in life was spending time playing in the water.

Her life was taken by a rare amoeba organism that grows in many different fresh water settings. We want you to know this tragic event is very, very rare, and this is not something to become fearful about.

We hope you will not live in fear of this rare infection that took our daughter’s life. Our family is very active in water sports, and we will continue to be. 

We pray that Hally’s life is not in vain.  We are so thankful that she is now with Jesus and her spirit lives on.

We appreciate all the love and support from everyone. 

We also want you to know that we have set up a scholarship fund in Hally’s honor. If you wish to donate, please send your gifts to the Hally “Bug” Yust K-State Women’s Basketball Scholarship, Ahearn Fund, 1800 College Ave., Suite 138, Manhattan, KS 66502. We hope that this will provide educational opportunities for young women who loved basketball as much as Hally did. 

If you really want to report the right story, dig into who Hally was and her love for Jesus, not what took her life.

Thank you and God bless.

The health department states the "risk of infection is extremely low."

If exposed, essentially anyone can get this brain eating amoeba and possibly die. 

Hally visited about four lakes in Kansas in the last two weeks. State health officials refuse to disclose the names of the lakes that could possibly contain this deadly organism. 

Dr. Sarah Hoehn at the University of Kansas Hospital said cases are rare, and the amoeba grows when the temperatures get above a certain temperature and stays there all the time. 

"It's primarily seen in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, and just where you have luke warm lakes that don't cool off at night, and here in Kansas it's 90 degrees. It's not really cooling off at night, so we're at much more risk for it because the temperatures are not cooling off at night," Dr. Hoehn said. 

Dr. Hoehn said the amoeba enters into the nose and goes directly to the brain and causes infection in the spinal fluid all around the brain. It leads to the brain swelling, causing seizures, coma and leads to death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can't get infected by drinking water contaminated with Naegleria fowleri , which caused the Johnson County death.

A similar fatal case was reported in August 2011 in Sedgwick County , according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, when a child died after being infected. The Department of Health confirmed the 2011 case in its news release, saying the most recent was only the second known case of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri.

Naegleria fowleri is commonly referred to as a "brain-eating amoeba," according to the CDC.

The information below comes from the Kansas Department of Health's news release.

Naegleri fowleri can be found in freshwater environments around the world, but infection causing PAM is extremely rare. From 1962 to 2013, there have been 132 cases reported in the United States, with 34 of those cases occurring from 2004 to 2013. Most cases have occurred in southern-tier states. The risk of infection is very low, but increases during the summer months when water temperatures rise and more people participate in water-related activities. The infection typically occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose while the person is swimming underwater or diving and travels to the brain.

“We are very saddened to learn of this unfortunate circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time,” said Robert Moser, MD, KDHE Secretary and State Health Officer, “It is

important for the public to know that infections like these are extremely rare and there are precautions one can take to lower their risk – such as nose plugs.”

Symptoms usually appear about five days after infection, but can range between one and seven days, and include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures, and hallucinations. This infection cannot be spread from person to person or contracted from a properly maintained swimming pool.

Though the risk of infection is extremely low, the following precautions might decrease the possibility of infection:

  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
  • Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

There is no known way to control the occurrence of Naeglaria fowleri in freshwater lakes and rivers.

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