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Family says teen who fell seriously ill after swimming in lake has died

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Hunter Boutain, the teenager who was sickened by what health officials believe is a rare parasite he contracted after swimming in a Pope County lake, has died.

"Hunter’s condition deteriorated throughout the night and he was declared brain dead this morning," read a statement from family spokesperson Bryan Boutain. "Hunter died surrounded by his family. It is a deeply emotional time for all us. We ask for privacy and prayers as we remember our beloved Hunter."

His brother also posted a tribute on Facebook Thursday.

The Minnesota Department of Public Health said Tuesday Hunter became "critically ill" after he developed symptoms of a rare and severe brain infection – primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) – after swimming in Lake Minnewaska.

Health officials are conducting tests to determine if Hunter was infected with that specific amoeba, MPR News reports.

The PAM infection, which the MDH describes as “very rare and severe,” is caused by a microscopic amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which is found in fresh water and soil around the world.

Infection only occurs when the organism enters a person’s body through the nose – usually when people get water in their nose while swimming or diving – and then travels to the brain, according to the health department. It is almost always fatal.

Naegleria thrive in warm water, so infections are more common in southern states. The number of people who become ill is relatively low, with 35 cases reported across the country between 2005-2014, the health department notes.

But two children in Minnesota died of PAM in recent years – a 7-year-old girl in 2010 and a 9-year-old boy in 2012. Both of them became infected while swimming at Lily Lake near Stillwater.

PAM is also suspected, but unconfirmed, as the cause of death for two other children, the Pioneer Press reported.

Before 2010, the most northern suspected occurrence of the amoeba was more than 500 miles south of Lily Lake, the Star Tribune says.

Lake Minnewaska is a popular destination for anglers and boaters in west-central Minnesota. It’s located in central Pope County.

Municipal swimming beaches are located in Glenwood and Starbuck. After news spread about the boy becoming sick, the City of Glenwood closed its beach as a precaution until officials could gathered more information about the situation, Mayor Scott Formo said in a Facebook post.

The city beach has since been reopened, he said.

“We continue to work with state and local organizations to gather information that can be distributed so the general public can also be informed,” he said. “As a community, our hearts and prayers are with the family of the affected child.”

The Minnesota Health Department has more information about Naegleria and PAM on its website.

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