GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — A North Carolina man died after an amoeba entered his body and led to a deadly illness, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services.
Health officials confirmed the death was directly related to Naegleria fowleri, also known as the "brain-eating amoeba," which is naturally present in warm freshwater during the summer.
Eddie Gray was in the Fantasy Lake water park in Hope Mills with a mission group from Kernersville's Sedge Garden United Methodist Church when the amoeba entered his body, WRAL reports.
The Centers for Disease Control says this amoeba enters the system through the nose before going into the brain.
Victims then can develop primary amebic meningoencephalitis, as Gray did.
The infection starts with severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting before leading into a stiff neck, seizures and coma, NCDHHS reports.
Gray died on Monday, less than two weeks after swimming at Fantasy Lake on July 12.
The CDC says the brain disease is rare, but devastating. The state reports that there have been 145 known cases from 1962 to 2018, only five of which were in North Carolina. Guilford County has not seen any cases in at least the last five years.
Infections like these usually only happen when temperatures have been high for a prolonged period of time.
Local health officials are working with the water park to provide guidance and education about the presence of Naegleria fowleri and how to take precautions when in natural bodies of fresh water.
The state says there is no way to eliminate the amoeba from freshwater lakes, and that the public should take the following precautions:
- Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
- Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
- Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
"Our sympathies are with the family and loved ones," State Epidemiologist Zack Moore said in a news release. "People should be aware that this organism is present in warm freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs across North Carolina, so be mindful as you swim or enjoy water sports."
Gray was 59 years old when he died on Monday, according to his obituary.
"He will be missed by all who knew him, and his greatest joy was his family," his obituary reads. "He spent his spare time kayaking, camping, hunting, fishing, NASCAR, and spending time with his wife as they loved on their grandchildren."
The family's attorney provided a statement to WGHP which read, "Mr. Gray’s death was tragic and untimely. The family is currently asking for privacy and respect during this difficult time. Otherwise, at this time, the family has no comment."
The water park is now posting these fliers to warm swimmers:
This video accompanied an article on a previous case of Naegleria fowleri in North Carolina.