A 19-year-old Brooklyn College student died from a degenerative brain infection she contracted while swimming in a creek during a family vacation, the Daily Freeman reports.
Kerry Stoutenburgh was initially hospitalized on August 27th due to vomiting and persistent headaches, her father, Donald Stoutenburgh, told the Freeman. Despite being treated and released, her condition worsened and she returned to the hospital, where doctors thought she had meningitis until a spinal tap suggested otherwise. Stoutenburgh's spinal fluid was then sent to a pathologist who confirmed the presence of a rare, brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, which causes an infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, that leads to the destruction of brain tissue.
Stoutenburgh died on Wednesday, August 31st, just four days after her initial hospitalization but more than four weeks after she contracted the amoeba. Donald Stoutenburgh believes the amoeba entered his daughter's system on August 20th after she jumped off a bridge into a warm body of water in Maryland while vacationing with her older sister, mother, and boyfriend.
"It's a catastrophic type of infection," Ulster County Health Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith told the Freeman. "It really progresses to fatality quite quickly."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria fowleri is most commonly found in bodies of warm freshwater like rivers and lakes, as well as in hot springs. The amoeba can also be found in geothermal drinking water sources, improperly maintained chlorinated pools, water heaters, and sometimes burrowed in soil. Humans can only be infected with Naegleria fowleri when the amoeba travels up the nose and through the brain, where it begins to destroy the brain tissue.
Between 1962 and 2015, there were reported 138 cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri— Stoutenburgh's case appears to be the first contracted in Maryland. The mortality rate for primary amebic meningoencephalitis is more than 97 percent, but Smith acknowledged that there is an experimental drug to treat the infection—however Smith emphasized that the drug, which is not yet readily available at most hospitals, isn't guaranteed to work and may not have gotten to Stoutenburgh in time. In late August, a Florida teenager survived the Naegleria-caused infection, making him just the fourth person in the last 50 years to survive the infection.
Stoutenburgh, who lived in Brighton Beach, was a sophomore at Brooklyn College majoring in film and minoring in history. A GoFundMe page has been set up on behalf of her family.
"Kerry was a beautiful soul both inside and out," her friend Taylor Reynolds wrote on the page. "She was taken from this world way too soon, but her memories will stay with us forever."