Man develops fatal brain infection after swimming in Hope Mills Fantasy Lake

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HOPE MILLS, N.C. (WNCN) – A man is dead from an illness caused by a brain-eating amoeba contracted after he swam at a Cumberland County lake, health officials said.

Eddie Gray, 59, of Colfax died Monday. He swam at Fantasy Lake Water Park in Hope Mills on July 12, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement from their attorney, Gray’s family asked for privacy, calling his death tragic and untimely. 

Naegleria fowleri, referred to as the brain-eating amoeba, is found in most bodies of warm freshwater, but illness or death is rare, health officials said.

Since 1962, there have been five reported cases in North Carolina.

Duane Holder, interim director of the Cumberland County Health Department, said this is believed to be the county’s first case of Naegleria fowleri.

“There’s no remediation that can be employed to help get rid of it so it’s something that is present in any freshwater body,” said Holder.

Holder said the amoeba doesn’t pose a risk if swallowed — only if it enters the body through the nose.

“You would naturally experience that type of situation when you’re diving or falling into the water at a high rate of speed,” he said.

There are no plans to close Fantasy Lake, health officials said. During a press conference Thursday, Holder said he would swim in the lake with proper precautions, such as using nose clips.

The news of the death was shocking to swimmer Mya Cummings.

“They should put signs out here so we’ll know because people probably out here don’t know right now,” Cummings said.

Others, like Nicole Brantley, said they weren’t afraid to swim because the amoeba is naturally occurring.

“My son works here, and I’m not worried about him being here,” said Brantley. “It’s sad that that happened to this person, but it was a freak accident.”

Symptoms after contracting the amoeba include severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. They progress to a stiff neck, seizures, and coma.

“It’s pretty aggressive, and typically people will succumb because they don’t recognize the symptoms that they are experiencing are due to that. Sometimes people will wait too long to seek help,” Holder said.

NCDHHS said to help prevent the amoeba from entering your nose:

  • Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities. 
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas. 

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