14 year-old track and field star killed
Every year, a very small number of people are killed by Naegleria fowleri, known as the "brain-eating amoeba." In fact, more people die from sharks every year than die from N. fowleri every decade. But N. fowleri infections grip our national attention for many reasons.
(Not least of which being that the disease is more common in summer, when the news cycle dies down and news agencies are grasping at any story they can flog in the headlines.)
N. fowleri is a very common amoeba in American bodies of fresh water and soil. However, the population tends to rise dramatically during the summer. It is especially prevalent in shallow, warm, stagnant water.
The amoeba enters the body through the nose. It travels up the nerves that carry smell information to the brain. From there it goes nuts, destroying brain tissue at a rapid rate, and causing a fast-moving form of meningitis which can kill within a few short days.
Because their olfactory nerves are more developmentally exposed, and because they are more likely to go swimming - and to get water up their noses when they do - children and teenagers are far more likely to contract N. fowleri and die from it.
Some are calling for the CDC to set up mandatory reporting rules, so that cases of N. fowleri can be reported and tracked, and drug companies will be more motivated to work on detection protocols and even a cure. Early detection is key, but there hasn't been funding or interest from drug companies because the disease is so relatively rare.
Until then, experts recommend that you wear nose plugs while swimming, and avoid swimming in stagnant, cloudy, or green water.