Courtney Nash died at a hospital from a rare parasite that infected her brain while swimming in the St. John's River near her home in Broward County. The Orlando Sentinel
reports that Central Florida's fresh water lakes and rivers offer local swimmers picaresque and cool relief from the summer's scorching heat.
But beneath the cool waters lurks the deadly amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which can be found in the silt at the bottom of most Florida lakes and rivers. Doctors say this amoeba enters its victim through the nose, then attacks the brain and spinal chord.
The New York Daily News
reports that Nash and her family went swimming in the St. Johns River last week to escape the heat. But after becoming feverish and delirious a few days later, she was rushed to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in critical condition suffering from symptoms similar to primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). She died soon after.
The dangerous and rare parasite is commonly found in stagnant freshwater during hot weather, as well as poorly tended pools or hot tubs. Doctors say the parasite enters the human body through the nose, the eyes or ears, then attacks the brain and spinal cord, and destroys brain tissue.
Dr. Barry Inman, an epidemiologist at the Brevard County Health Department, says
"We got a result from the hospital in Orlando and they did a spinal tap on her, and they looked on the cerebral spinal fluid and they saw the amoeba."
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida's last confirmed case of this disease happened in 2009.
Nash was attending Astronaut High School in Titusville. Friends and family members said she loved the outdoors and had swum in the St. John's River all her life.