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COLUMBIA, SC (WBTV) -
A Sumter County child was killed by an "extremely rare" brain infection, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Lab tests confirmed the boy's diagnosis Wednesday evening. DHEC officials say the child was exposed to an organism called "Naegleria fowleri."
"We are saddened to learn that this child was exposed to the deadly organism Naegleria fowleri," said Catherine Templeton, DHEC director. "While this organism is present in many warm water lakes, rivers and streams in the South, infection in humans is extremely rare. Naegleria fowleri almost always results in death."
DHEC did not identify the child's name or age stating that it would "be a violation of federal law to provide information about the child's identity."
According to a Facebook page created in the past few days, the child was identified as 8-year-old Blake Driggers.
Scientists say the infection's severity increases very quickly, resulting in death within one to 12 days. It cannot be spread from person to person.
Health officials say it is important to understand that the ameba is present in virtually any body of fresh water, but is rare due to the way it enters the body.
"Water must be forced up the nose, through the nasal passages, so that the ameba is able to travel up to the brain and destroy tissue," Dr. Kathleen Antonetti, M.D. and DHEC medical epidemiologist said.
People should seek immediate medical attention after swimming in fresh water if they experience headache, nausea, vomiting, high fever and neck stiffness.
"People should avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of fresh water when the water is warm and the water levels are low. You cannot be infected by merely drinking water containing the ameba. These infections are so rare, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented only 32 cases in this country from 2001 to 2010."
According to the CDC, Naegleria fowleri is found around the world. In the United States, the majority of infections have been caused by exposure in freshwater located in southern states. Typically, the ameba can be found in:
Bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes and rivers
Geothermal (naturally hot) water, such as hot springs
Warm water discharge from industrial plants
Geothermal (naturally hot) drinking water sources
Swimming pools that are poorly maintained, with either low levels of chlorine or unchlorinated
Water heaters with temperatures less than 116°F.
Naegleria fowleri is not found in salt water, like the ocean. For more information about Naegleria fowleri, click here.