A Guilford County man has died of 'brain-eating amoeba' from swimming at Fantasy Lake Water Park in Cumberland County, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) confirmed Thursday.
The family's attorney says Eddie Gray's death was "tragic and untimely."
Gray died on July 12, 2019, after becoming ill. Laboratory testing at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the illness was caused by Naegleria fowleri. It's often referred to as brain-eating amoeba.
"Our sympathies are with the family and loved ones," said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore, M.D.
"People should be aware that this organism is present in warm freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs across North Carolina, so be mindful as you swim or enjoy water sports."
Gray attended Sedge Garden United Methodist Church. The Senior Pastor, Justin Lowe released the following statement:
“Our church family is deeply saddened by this loss and our prayers are with the family in this time of grief. Our focus now is offering support and care for all of the family, as well as our larger church family.”
The family's attorney, Justin Plumber, released the full statement from Gray's family:
"Ms. Beverly Gray, wife of the late, Eddie Gray and his forthcoming estate. Mr. Gray’s death was tragic and untimely. The family is currently asking for privacy and respect during this difficult time. Otherwise, at this time, the family has no comment on the matter."
Naegleria fowleri infections are rare, with only 145 known infected individuals in the U.S. (between zero and eight cases annually) from 1962 through 2018. North Carolina had five cases during that time period.
It does not cause illness if swallowed but can be deadly if forced up the nose, as can occur during diving, water-skiing or other water activities. Symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection start with severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and progress to stiff neck, seizures and coma.
This amoeba can cause severe illness up to nine days after exposure. A person cannot be infected by drinking water and the amoeba is not found in saltwater.
Local health officials are working with the water park to provide guidance and education about the presence of Naegleria fowleri and how to take precautions when in natural bodies of freshwater.
Here are some recommended precautions for swimming and other recreational activities in freshwater lakes during warm weather:
- Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
- Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
- Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.