‘Brain-eating amoeba’ that killed man might have been in Texas surf resort pool, CDC says

Fabrizio Stabile, 29, of Ventnor, New Jersey, died from Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as a ‘brain-eating amoeba,’ after visiting a surf resort outside of Waco, Texas. The resort closed Friday so the CDC could take water samples.
Fabrizio Stabile, 29, of Ventnor, New Jersey, died from Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as a ‘brain-eating amoeba,’ after visiting a surf resort outside of Waco, Texas. The resort closed Friday so the CDC could take water samples. GoFundMe

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is testing the water from a wave pool at a surf resort outside of Waco, Texas, after a 29-year-old visitor died from an infection caused by a rare, ‘brain-eating’ amoeba.

Fabrizio Stabile, of Ventnor, New Jersey, was mowing his lawn on September 16, when “he suddenly experienced a severe headache,” according to a GoFundMe page established in his name.

He died five days later after being diagnosed with Naegleria fowleri, the GoFundMe page says. The microscopic amoeba, commonly known as the “brain-eating amoeba,” causes a usually fatal infection of the brain, the CDC says.

It’s unclear from media reports when Stabile visited BSR Cable Park Surf Resort in Texas.

“The CDC collected water samples and are currently investigating to find the source,” Kelly Craine, spokeswoman for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, told KBTX in Bryan, Texas.

Craine told the Waco Tribune-Herald that the park closed voluntarily on Friday pending the investigation’s outcome.

Stabile was in the park’s wave pool, and no other part of the park was affected, owner Stuart E. Parsons Jr. told the newspaper.

“Our hearts and prayers are with his family, friends, and the New Jersey surf community during this difficult time,” Parsons told the Tribune-Herald.

“BSR Surf Resort operates a state of the art artificial man-made wave. We are in compliance with the CDC guidelines and recommendations concerning Naegleria fowleri.”

The “heat-loving” amoeba causes PAM, or primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare and nearly always fatal disease of the central nervous system, according to the CDC.

It’s commonly found in soil and warm freshwater, such as “lakes, rivers and hot springs,” and not in salt water, like the ocean, the CDC says.

People usually get it when contaminated water gets in their nose and travels to the brain. People can’t get it by swallowing water contaminated with the amoeba, the CDC says.

“In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose,” the CDC says.

The 143 cases reported in the United States from 1962 through 2017 - with only four survivors - happened in 15 Southern states, with more than half reported in Texas and Florida, the CDC says. It seems to “disproportionately” affect males and children, maybe because activities such as diving and water sports “might be more common among young boys,” the CDC says.

Eighteen-year-old Lauren Seitz of Ohio died in June 2016 after she contracted the brain-eating amoeba after rafting with a church group at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., the Charlotte Observer reported.

“Under pressure, the park shuttered the water feature for nearly two months and a federal epidemiologist found that filtration and disinfection systems were inadequate to properly clean the facility’s turbid waters,” the newspaper reported.

“Water samples from the park detected the presence of an amoeba at levels the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not previously seen.”

Stablie’s love of the outdoors - he was a snowboarder, surfer and fisherman, “led him to work for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Bass Pro Shop,” according to his obituary in The Press of Atlantic City.

His family and friends called him “Fab,” says the obituary.

“At first, Fabrizio’s symptoms (brain swelling and fever) appeared consistent with bacterial meningitis and he was quickly sedated and treated with the appropriate medication and aggressive neurological protocol,” Stephanie Papastephanou, organizer of the GoFundMe campaign, wrote.

As his condition worsened and he didn’t respond to treatment, “one of the test results came back positive,” she wrote. “As family and friends huddled in the ICU waiting room, we were delivered a devastating blow.

“The worst-case scenario was unfolding in front of our eyes as we learned that this infection results in a 98% fatality rate. ...

“We created The Fabrizio Stabile Foundation for Naegleria Fowleri Awareness to bring awareness to, and educate as many people as possible about, this rare and preventable infection. We aim to do this through an annual fundraiser in Fabrizio’s memory in hopes that this will not affect another family.”

CDC spokesperson Candice Burns Hoffmann told the Tribune-Herald that preliminary results from the water samples taken at the resort should be ready by the end of this week.

She said the CDC would work with the local health department on recommendations for how the park can reduce potential exposures, the Tribune reported.

An outbreak of infections caused by a bacterium called Elizabethkingia anophelis has killed 20 people in three states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was first reported in Wisconsin, and has now spread to Illinois