Area boy dies from rare disease contracted while swimming

By MaryHelen Swanson
ECM Post Review, North Branch

Tragedy struck our communities last week when we learned that a 9-year-old boy died of a rare illness contracted from an amoeba in lake water.

It was confirmed by the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday, Aug. 13, that the type of ameba known as Naegleria fowleri was the cause of the rare illness that claimed the life of Jack Ariola Erenberg a little over a week ago.

The results of the CDC confirmatory clinical testing was reported to the Minnesota Department of Health who said the cause of the illness had been 99 percent certain before, but the CDC test results made it 100 percent certain.

Jack Ariola Erenberg

It will never be possible to know for sure where the child was infected, but the timing of the illness and other factors point to Lily Lake in Washington County where the boy had been swimming with his siblings two weeks ago.

Last week Stillwater officials had taped off the Lily Lake beach and boat launch areas to keep people out of the water.

This was the second time in two years that Lily Lake has been ordered closed after a child had died from this brain infection, a state Department of Health official said.

Seven-year-old Annie Bahneman from Stillwater died of the illness two years ago. She had taken a late summer swim in Lily Lake and it was later believed she had contracted the illness from that lake.

The amoeba, Naegleri fowleri, causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and is found in warm freshwater. It is a very rare illness with only 125 cases reported since 1924. It is mostly found in southern states and these two deaths are the only ones reported in Minnesota.

This summer’s warm weather likely contributed to the amoeba’s proliferation, said an assistant state epidemiologist.

“The way the amoeba gets in to you is that when you dive or go underwater it forces itself up your nose and crawls up your olfactory nerve to your brain where it proliferates,” he said.

Symptoms are severe headache, neck ache, blurred vision and slurred speech. This leads to the victim falling unconscious, into a coma and results in eventual death.

Young Jack had been a student at Jacobson Elementary during the 2011-12 school year and moved to the Stillwater area with his mother sometime in early 2012.

His funeral was held Saturday, Aug. 11.