Christian Strickland, 9, dies from rare amoeba disease

(AP, ABC7) - Virginia health officials say a child has died of a brain infection from a microscopic bug that lives in stagnant water.

State epidemiologist Dr. Keri Hall declined to name the child, but the victim's mother identified him as 9-year-old Christian Alexander Strickland of Henrico County.

The boy died Aug. 5 and Hall received the autopsy results Friday confirming the cause of death as meningoencephalitis- inflammation of the brain and its lining.

The victim's mother, Amber Strickland, said her son had attended a fishing day camp at the James River and other locations the week before he died.

"He went from playing video games to being brain dead," she said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports it's the first case of an amoeba death in Virginia since 1969.

State health officials issued an advisory Saturday, saying the amoeba proliferates in stagnant freshwater lakes and ponds during hot weather. The amoeba usually live in shallow stagnant areas when temperatures are 80 degrees or above. The mud-dwelling microorganisms die off when temperatures cool.

Dr. Michael Edmond, epidemiologist for VCU Medical Center and chief of infectious diseases, said the amoeba swims up the nose, through the sinuses and into the space around the brain, causing meningoencephalitis in a day to two weeks.

A similar death occurred last weekend in central Florida involving a 16-year-old girl.

"I prayed and prayed. I was hoping I would get a miracle," P.J. Nash said. Her daughter Courtney went swimming in the St. John's river, then started getting severe headaches. This weekend, she died of the same form of meningitis.

Tee Clarkson, who has run the Richmond-based Virginia Fishing Adventures day camp for seven years, said it's impossible to know where the boy contracted the amoeba and whether it happened on a fishing trip.

Clarkson said the Virginia Department of Health asked him not to release the names of the water bodies where the boy and other campers went fishing.

He said he has made some changes in the way the camps operate, including spending more time fishing in the James River rather than in ponds, where amoebas are more likely to multiply. He has also warned campers to hold their noses if they go underwater and to try not to swallow fresh water.

Jeremy Lewis, a Texas father whose 7-year-old son, Kyle, died last year after contracting an amoeba while swimming in a pond with his family, said he wants to make people aware of the dangers of swimming in still water, particularly in warm weather.

Lewis and his wife, Julie, formed the Kyle Lewis Amoeba Awareness Foundation to raise money and public knowledge about the parasite.

"Prevention is the only thing you have," Lewis said. "As a father who lost a child, I'm asking, why didn't I know about this?"