A Kansas girl’s battle with a rare brain-eating amoeba ended in tragedy Wednesday when 9-year-old Hally Yust lost her life to the uncommon, summer time affliction. Young Hally had been battling the infection with the rare amoeba Naegleria fowleri, a unicellular microorganism found in bodies of fresh water, such as ponds, lakes, rivers and hot springs.
Hally caught the amoeba from a lake in Missouri, where her family spends their summers. Fox News reports that a county health official said Hally “had been in several bodies of water that could have exposed her to the infection, so it is impossible to determine where the girl contracted it.”
“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,” Johnson County Health Department investigator Tiffany Geiger said.
N. fowleri, which enters through the nasal cavity, can invade and attack the human nervous system, and although rare, once infected, the case fatality rate is nearly 100 percent. According to the CDC, Geiger’s statement is inaccurate – in the United States, 132 individuals were infected from 1962 to 2013. Three survived.
National Geographic speaks of how to prevent potential infection, which onsets with meningitis-like symptoms:
If people want to reduce their risk of becoming infected—even though this is a rare event—the thing to think about is holding their nose shut or wearing nose clips when swimming in warm, untreated freshwater. Keep your head above water in hot springs or other thermally heated bodies of water, and during activities where water is forced up the nose, like water sports and diving. Another way to reduce the risk of infection is to avoid stirring up the sediment in lakes and ponds, where the amoeba may live.
Yust's obituary discussed her love of sports and her close family. In addition to her mom and dad, Hally has three other siblings.
“As a giver, caretaker, sister, daughter, and friend, Hally was the light to the world and a blessing to all,” her obituary said.
Robert Moser of the Kansas City Department of Health sought to assure the public, stating: “It is important for the public to know that infections like these are extremely rare and there are precautions one can take to lower their risk – such as nose plugs.”
Yust's family echoed the same message, stating that Hally “loved life and part of her great joy was spending time playing in the water. Her life was taken by a rare amoeba organism that grows in many different fresh water settings. We want you to know this tragic event is very, very rare, and this is not something to become fearful about,” their media statement read.
Hally's mother, Jenny Yust, says she believes God took her daughter. “It must have been a little boring in heaven the last few weeks so God looked around the earth and he found the most interesting, dynamic, fantastic person he could,” Jenny Yust said, “And he said, ‘Hally you gotta come be with me.’”
“We hope you will not live in fear of this rare infection that took our daughter’s life. Our family is very active in water sports, and we will continue to be,” the Yust’s added.
According to Fox4KC.com, a scholarship fund has been set up in Hally’s honor, and those who wish to contribute are asked to send donations to:
The Hally “Bug” Yust K-State Women’s Basketball Scholarship, Ahearn Fund, 1800 College Ave., Suite 138, Manhattan, Kansas 66502