Brain-eating amoeba claims three lives in Texas

Trinity River. (File)
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A 19-year-old Houston resident is dead after swimming in freshwater in Harris County earlier this month.

The teen's death was due to a rare brain-eating infection he developed from the water.

His case is one of three in the past 12 months.

Dale Johnson lives on the Trinity River.

"I'm out on the water all the time on my boat that is just for fishing, running trot lines and hand-fishing,” said Johnson.

Johnson does not take a dip, but says he often sees large groups of children swimming in the water.

"There might be 30 or 40 of them at a time," said Johnson.

Unfortunately, the Trinity River water turned deadly last August when a 4-year-old got an infection from a fresh water amoeba.

The infection is rare, but occurs in low water with high temperatures.

"Two-point-six cases per million, so literally getting into the one-in-a-million type," said Dr. Seth Sullivan, who works with the Brazos County Health Department.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says almost all cases are fatal.

In the last calendar year, three Texas residents have died from the infection, two in July and one in August.

All three were exposed to the amoeba while swimming when water containing the amoeba went up their noses.

"Inhalation of the water that gets to the brain essentially through the nose," said Dr. Sullivan.

The infection turns deadly quick, eating the brain of the person infected.

Johnson says knowing what the water is capable of doesn't sit well with him.

"Now that I know about it, it bothers me, especially for little kids. I mean, you can warn people, but they are going ahead and do what they want anyways," said Johnson.

Since 2005 there have been nine cases in Texas, eight of which were fatal, according to the CDC.