David Pruitt, a 7-year-old from Tehama County, Calif. developed a rare brain-eating amoeba and died after swimming with his family. He had spent nine days on life support at UC Davis Medical Center before passing away on August 7.
The boy contracted the brain-eating amoeba after swimming in a California lake in late July. He was flown to the hospital on July 30 after developing symptoms and that was where he spent the last days of his life. His family has set up a fundraiser to help pay for hospital and funeral costs.
Because of the brain-eating amoeba, David Pruitt developed primary amoebic meningoencephalitis or PAM. This caused him to develop severe swelling in his brain and doctors were unable to save him.
The amoeba that Pruitt developed is very rare in California, but also very dangerous. Since 1971, California has only seen 10 cases of the parasite. It’s called Naegleria fowleri. People developed an infection when contaminated water goes up their noses.
This particular parasite likes to live in warm bodies of fresh water, but can also be found in some warm pools if they are not treated properly with chlorine. Coming in contact with the parasite in a pool is rare, but not impossible.
According to the Tehama County Health Services Agency, the boy contracted the parasite while swimming in a country lake. They did not disclose what lake. It is hard to tell when the boy went swimming because the symptoms developed so rapidly. PAM can be developed one to nine days after first contact and death can occur one to 18 days after symptoms appear.
Common symptoms include headache, vomiting, nausea, and fever. If the disease goes untreated, the patient can then develop a stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance, confusion, and possible hallucinations.
David Pruitt’s parents haven’t commented on the loss of their son. But his aunt, Crystal Hayley said their family wanted ” people to be aware of this amoeba and the illness signs.”
This is not the first time that someone has died because of the Naegleria fowleri parasite. Since 1962 there have been 145 cases of the parasite in the United States and only five people have survived. Most recently, the brain-eating amoeba was talked about a lot in Texas news.
In 2020, officials in Lake Jackson, Texas told citizens in multiple counties not to drink the water after the amoeba was found in the water supply. It had developed in a water storage tank and because of the contamination, 6-year-old Josiah McIntyre died. The city has since taken the proper steps to improve its water system so accidental deaths because of the parasite don’t happen again.
That same year, 10-year-old Lily Avant also passed away from the brain-eating amoeba. Like David Pruitt, she developed swelling in her brain that couldn’t be reduced by doctors. When the girl originally got sick, her family just thought it was one of the viruses that were going around school.
Wendy Scott, first cousin once removed to the little girl said, “They got it checked out. There were several viruses going around the school. It was assumed it’s a virus because the symptoms are exactly the same, so she was sent home.”
The CDC and other health organizations don’t fully understand how the parasite works and why it only affects certain people when thousands of people swim every year in freshwater lakes and rivers. A spokesperson from the Texas Department of State Health Services said, “Because the organism is common in lakes and rivers, we don’t recommend people specifically avoid bodies of water where people have contracted the illness.”