Father warns of lake-dwelling disease that killed his daughter

Published: Jul. 13, 2016 at 9:32 PM CDT
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The Oklahoma State Department of Health is putting out a warning to beware of the water-born illnesses such as norovirus and E. coli.

One virus in particular, Naegleria fowleri, is especially dangerous. The amoeba causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Last summer, it killed a woman at Lake Murray.

24-year-old Elizabeth Knight was spending a day at the lake when she became infected by a water-born brain eating amoeba. Five days later, she died.

"It was horrific, absolutely horrific. We had a happy, healthy, vibrant daughter on a Tuesday, and by that Sunday, she was gone." Elizabeth's father, Mike McKown, said.

McKown and his wife have set up Beth Smiles, a Facebook page to increase awareness of the disease. And they plan on rolling out a website this weekend for their campaign. They don't want people to stop swimming at the lakes, but they want people to be aware.

"Don't ever think this is too rare to happen to you. It's never too rare. It can happen to anybody." McKown said.

The amoebas are naturally found in most lakes, ponds and rivers, but they multiply rapidly in very warm or stagnant waters. Though a rare occurrence, this is when it becomes a problem. Seven cases of the disease have occurred in Oklahoma since 1998.

Symptoms of initially include high fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. It can evolve to seizures, hallucinations, comas and death.

Carter County Public Health Educator Colleen Hobbs says to be aware of no swimming signs, polluted or stagnant waters, and shallow waters where it is likely to rapidly multiply. due to the heat Because the amoba travels up the nose to target the brain, there are precautions you can take.

"In those specific areas, we want to encourage parents to block noses, so purchase nose plugs and tell them not to swallow the water." Hobbs said.

Health experts say to be extra careful in shallow areas because they heat up faster. Thus, they and are more likely to have the brain eating amoeba in larger numbers.