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Teen dies after contracting brain-eating amoeba in Maryland

Kerry Stoutenberg

CBS Baltimore

A healthy teenager suddenly got sick and died within days, and officials say it’s due to a rare brain-eating amoeba she likely contracted from swimming in creeks in Cecil County, Maryland.

The amoeba can travel through the nose into a person’s brain, nearly always causing death.

Kerry Stoutenburgh, 19, was visiting family in Cecil County where she went swimming in several freshwater creeks, CBS Baltimore reports.

Doctors say after the teen returned home, she starting having headaches. Within days a brain-eating amoeba had killed her.

Health officials say the amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri, occurs naturally in fresh warm water. If people get contaminated water up their nose, in rare circumstances it can lead to a deadly brain infection, primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

There have been several other cases reported in the U.S. this year. 

Last month in South Carolina, 11-year-old Hannah Collins died after being exposed while swimming in a river. An Ohio teen, Lauren Sykes, died in June after falling in the water on a North Carolina rafting trip.

In South Florida, doctors scrambled last month to save the life of an infected 16-year-old boy – and he beat the odds. 

“Now he’s currently walking, talking. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle,” said Dr. Humberto Liriano of the Florida Hospital for Children, where the teen was treated.

“We are so thankful that God has given us this miracle,” said his mother, Brunilda Gonzalez.

Out of 138 cases reported over the past half-century, only three others survived.

The family of the latest victim, Kerry Stoutenberg, is grieving her sudden loss. “Kerry was a beautiful soul both inside and out. She was taken from this world way too soon, but her memories will stay with us forever,” the family said.

Cecil County officials say the risk of contracting the infection is very low, but ever-present in warm fresh water. Officials say if you jump in any river, lake or stream, hold your nose or wear nose clips as a precaution.