Girl, 10, dies after ‘contracting brain-eating infection from swimming pool’ on holiday

The death of a young girl who contracted a rare disease after becoming infected with a bug that eats brain tissue while on holiday has left her family devastated.

A young girl is thought to have died from a brain-eating bug after she was reportedly infected in a swimming pool in Colombia.

Stefanía Villamizar González, 10, began being sick, developed a fever, and suffered ear pain two days into her family holiday in the country’s Santa Marta. She was diagnosed with a suspected ear infection, and when she got home the pain had lessened a great deal. However, just two weeks later, she began convulsing after finding it hard to get out of bed.

She was rushed to hospital, but died three weeks after her arrival, and experts investigating her death decided the cause was amoebic encephalitis that carries with it a shocking 95 percent chance of death. The condition is very rare and attacks the central nervous system.

The experts said they thought the condition was caused by Naegleria fowleri, usually dubbed the “brain-eating amoeba”, which is often found in badly managed pools or stagnant water. Devastated mum Tatiana González believes her daughter contracted it through her nose as she played in the water while on holiday in June.

A close relative told local media: “We share our story so that other children and families do not suffer what we are going through. We are destroyed, devastated.” Stefanía, from Bucaramanga, was a keen tennis player, skater, and ballet dancer who dreamed of becoming a gymnast.

Local media did not say if there were any criminal charges pending, and the operations manager of the hotel where Stefanía is believed to have contracted the horrific condition has pledged to reinforce safety standards to avoid any chance of the alleged shocking incident happening again.

The ameoba lives in soil and warm, freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds and hot springs. But it can also be found in pools and splash pads that have not been properly maintained. It infects people when water containing the bug enters the body through the nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Once inside someone’s body, it feeds on brain tissue, which almost always leads to severe neurological damage. Symptoms usually begin about five days later, with a severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms then progress, resulting in a stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations, and sometimes a coma. This can then lead to death. Infections are rare, but it is fatal in almost all cases, with a survival rate of just three per cent.

In order to avoid falling foul of the bug, health officials say you should hold your nose shut or use nose clips and keep your head above the water if you are swimming in warm fresh water. But it’s better to avoid that type of water altogether if the temperature is high, and avoid stirring up the sediment if you are in shallow fresh water.

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  • Date: November 2023