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Pool closed for season following death from brain-eating amoeba, Little Rock country club says

by Tony Holt | September 15, 2023 at 6:05 p.m.
Cerebrospinal fluid smear containing trophozoites of brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri and neutrophils is shown in this 3D illustration. / Getty Images

Eleven days after the death of a 16-month-old boy from a brain-eating amoeba he picked up from a splash pad at the Country Club of Little Rock, members received a memorandum from the club’s board of governors confirming it had shut down its pool complex the day it learned of the boy’s illness.

Friday’s memorandum stated that the complex was shut down “for the season” effective Sept. 3.

Michael Alexander Pollock III died the next day from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, the infection caused by the amoeba, also known as Naegleria fowleri, which was detected in a sample that the state Department of Health sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The sample was collected from the splash pad located in the club’s pool complex. Other collected samples — including some from the pool water itself — also were sent to the CDC, but those test results had not been sent to the Health Department as of late Friday afternoon, department spokeswoman Meg Mirivel said.

The CDC confirmed Friday to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the boy was the seventh known case of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, in Arkansas since 1962.

“It is with deep sadness that we share a tragic incident involving one of our member families,” the country club's board said in the memo on Friday.

“Following an investigation, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) determined that the pathogen likely originated from our splash pad,” the board said.

Country club President Daniels Bynum and General Manager Blaine Burgess did not return phone messages and emails Friday.

Mirivel said her agency has been “working around the clock” since the case was first known.

“When we first identified the Country Club of Little Rock as a potential source, we contacted them,” she said. “They closed the pool and splash pad immediately, and it has remained closed. We had an inspector there within hours to collect samples and conduct an inspection. We did that before we had a confirmed positive on the case.”

The Health Department learned of the “positive environmental sample” late Wednesday and sent a news release the following afternoon, she said. The release came after the Pulaski County coroner confirmed to the Democrat-Gazette that the boy's cause of death was primary amoebic meningoencephalitis and after the newspaper contacted the Health Department for comment.

The department had earlier declined to provide any information in response to an inquiry from the Democrat-Gazette last week about whether there had been a recent infection by the amoeba in Arkansas.

The memo to the country club’s members stated that the club shut down the pool complex “immediately after receiving notification of the child’s prospective diagnosis from the [Health Department]” the evening of Sept. 3, which was deep into the Labor Day weekend.

“We will continue to cooperate and consult with the [Health Department] and others to safeguard the health of our members,” the memo continued.

Symptoms of an infection from the amoeba begin with severe headache, fever and nausea before progressing to a stiff neck, seizures and a coma that can lead to death. The death rate for PAM is 97%, according to the CDC.

Symptoms typically begin about five days after being infected but can start anywhere from one to 12 days.

“Currently, according to the guidelines made available by the CDC, we are outside that timeline,” the memo stated, but it went on to encourage those who had been in the pool complex to “self check for symptoms” and “immediately see your family’s healthcare professional if you feel you are symptomatic.”

The amoeba is known to live at the bottom of bodies of freshwater. That includes lakes, streams and rivers because it thrives in sediment, but it can also live in pools and splash pads that aren’t adequately chlorinated, according to the CDC.

It does not survive in salt water and cannot be passed from person to person, Health Department officials said.

People cannot get infected from swallowing water contaminated by the pathogen, only through the nose, according to the CDC.

Nationwide, roughly three people per year are infected by the amoeba. The last known case in Arkansas was in 2013 when a 12-year-old Benton girl was infected after visiting Willow Springs Water Park. She survived.


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