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Brain-eating amoeba responsible for 9-year-old Kansas girl's death

A 9-year-old Kansas girl who contracted the extremely rare brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, died Wednesday after being hosptalized after complaining of meningitis-like symptoms. Unfortunately, health officials believe that it would be next to impossible to ascertain exactly where little Hally Yust picked up the deadly parasite.

Fox News reported July 12 that Hally Yust, a young girl who enjoyed participating in water sports, could have contracted the brain-eating amoeba in any one of a number of freshwater bodies of water to which she recently had been exposed. The amoeba's rarity also works against investigators in pinpointing a point or place of origin.

Johnson County Health Department investigator Tiffany Geiger told Fox4KC: “The amoeba goes up through the nose and into the brain and once it’s there, there’s really nothing anybody can do. There’s only been one case that actually lived through this. All the other cases have passed away.”

In fact, there have been less than 200 cases of Naegleria fowleri contraction in the United States in the past fifty years.

According to CNN affilitate KCTV in Kansas City, the young girl's is just the second case to present itself in Kansas. The other case occurred back in 2011.

The CDC reports on its website that Naegleria fowleri can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) in rare cases, which most often results in the death of the victim. The brain-eating amoeba is found in warm bodies of water around the world. In the U. S. it is most prevalent in southern states but has presented mostly during warmer Summer months of the year when more individuals are in contact with freshwater sources.

Naegleria fowleri cannot survive, according to the CDC, in salt water and cannot be contracted via chlorinated water. However, it can be found in the following places: warm environment lakes and rivers, naturally hot (geothermal) water such as hot springs, warm water discharge from industrial or power plants, geothermal well water, poorly maintained or minimally chlorinated swimming pools, water heaters, and soil (where it survives by feeding on bacteria and other microbes in the environment).

Hally Yust's parents, themselves avid water sports enthusiasts, say they hope that their daughter's death does not frighten people away from enjoying the water, if only because Hally loved it so much.

“We hope you will not live in fear of this rare infection that took our daughter’s life,” the family said in a statement to Fox4KC. “Our family is very active in water sports, and we will continue to be.”

Hally's mother, Jenny Yust, noted that "it must have been a little boring in heaven" for God to search out "the most interesting, dynamic, fantastic person he could...” to be with Him.

She had wanted to grow up to become a college basketball player.

As noted, the brain-eating amoeba is contracted by exposure to contaminated freshwater and gains access to the brain through the nasal passage. Geiger pointed out that taking the precautionary measure of wearing noseplugs when swimming, skiing or doing other fresh water activities could lower the potential risk of infection. It is not transmissable by person-to-person contact.

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