Swimmer sickened by brain infection is IDed; in critical condition

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A young swimmer who contracted a severe brain infection after swimming in a western Minnesota lake has been identified as 14-year-old Hunter Boutain.

Boutain, from Alexandria, went swimming recently in Lake Minnewaska in Pope County and became “critically ill” shortly afterward with a likely case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), the Minnesota Department of Health announced Tuesday evening. The condition is almost always fatal.

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

Health officials suspect Naegleria was present in the lake and that Boutain became infected while swimming there.

He is being treated at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and is in critical condition, WCCO reports.

The teen's name was released by his family, according to the Star Tribune. His uncle Bryan Boutain released a statement on behalf of the family Wednesday afternoon.

“As of this afternoon, Hunter is still in the hospital and remains in critical condition. This is a difficult time for our family. We are grateful for the support we’ve received, and welcome everyone’s continued prayers,” Bryan Boutain said, according to WCCO.

PAM infection only occurs when the Naegleria 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.

Previous cases in Minnesota

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 from 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, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The health department said people who swim in fresh water can reduce their risk of infection by keeping their heads out of the water, or holding their noses shut or using nose clips.

James Ariola, the father of the boy who died after swimming in Lily Lake, sued the city of Stillwater, Washington County and the state Health Department in 2013, saying those agencies should have warned the public about the dangers of swimming in the lake after the first child died in 2010.

The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed Ariola’s lawsuit in January, according to KSTP.

Officials didn’t close the beach until after Ariola’s son, Jack Ariola Erenberg, died in 2012. It has not been reopened.

Lake Minnewaska is a popular destination for anglers and boaters in west-central Minnesota. It’s located in central Pope County between the towns of Glenwood and Starbuck.

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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