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Earache after playing in hotel pool…why did a 10-year-old girl die?

A 10-year-old girl who complained of ear pain after swimming in a hotel pool has died after being infected with the ‘brain-eating amoeba’.

According to recent reports by UK’s Daily Mail and other foreign media, 10-year-old Stefania Villamizar Gonzalez from Colombia began showing symptoms of ear pain, fever, and vomiting after swimming in a hotel pool during her summer vacation.

The girl seemed to improve slightly after returning home, but two weeks later, she began to show signs of seizures and eventually died. The cause of Gonzalez’s death was an infection by Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the ‘brain-eating amoeba’.

A close relative of Gonzalez said in an interview with local media, “We share this story in the hope that other children and families do not have to go through this. We were greatly shocked by Stefania’s death.”

The person responsible for the hotel where it is suspected that Gonzalez was infected with Naegleria fowleri has vowed to strengthen safety standards. So far, there has been no mention of any criminal liability on the part of the hotel.

Naegleria fowleri, also known as the ‘brain-eating amoeba’, primarily infects people when they swim or dive in warm freshwater bodies like rivers or lakes. It enters through the nose and then travels to the brain, destroying tissue. Infections are rare, but they progress rapidly and there is no specific treatment. The fatality rate is as high as 97%. Initial symptoms of infection are similar to the flu, including headaches, vomiting, nausea, and fever. As time passes, hallucinations, seizures, loss of balance, and cognitive decline occur.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been only four survivors among the 151 reported cases of infection in the U.S. from 1962 to 2020. Globally, 381 cases of infection were reported up until 2018. The CDC recommends immediate treatment if symptoms similar to bacterial meningitis, such as vomiting or fever, appear after swimming in freshwater during warm weather. Experts also advise against diving or submerging in freshwater, and recommend that children wear nose plugs to prevent water from entering their noses when swimming.

Recent infection cases include a woman in her 30s living in Taipei, Taiwan, who died in August after visiting a local water park twice and becoming infected with the brain-eating amoeba. She sought medical help for symptoms such as headache, fever, and chills, but her condition rapidly worsened and she died within a week. In July, a two-year-old child in Nevada, U.S., also died from an infection with this amoeba.

So far, there have been no cases of brain-eating amoeba infection from swimming in South Korea. However, a man in his 50s who returned home after a four-month stay in Thailand in December last year died from an infection with Naegleria fowleri. It was confirmed that the man was infected while in Thailand.

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