JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — A 9-year-old Kansas girl has died from an infection caused by a free-living amoeba found in freshwater, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the girl's friends.
The victim's water ski club identified her as Hally Yust of Spring Hill, Kansas Yust's online obituary said she passed away on Wednesday.
A KDHE news release said the victim's fatal case of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) was caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.
Yust was exposed to fresh water in several places in Kansas, so the actual source cannot be determined, the KDHE said.
Yust's family said the girl had been in "no less than 4 different bodies of fresh water in the State of Kansas in the last 7 to 14 days."
"We are very saddened to learn of this unfortunate circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time," Robert Moser, MD, KDHE Secretary and State Health Officer said. "It is important for the public to know that infections like these are extremely rare and there are precautions one can take to lower their risk - such as nose plugs."
Additional laboratory testing will be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. This is the second known cause of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis in Kansas. The first happened in 2011, the KDHE said.
There have only been 132 cases of PAM reported in the United States from 1962 to 2013. 34 of those incidents happened between 2004 and 2013.
"She was the most colorful person I've ever met in my life," Hally's mother Jenny Yust said. "And so I told people at Childrens' Mercy that it must have been a little boring up in heaven theses past few weeks and so God looked around the earth and he found the most interesting, dynamic and fantastic person he could and he said 'Hally, you've got to come be with me."
The KDHE said the risk of infection is low, "but increases during the summer months when water temperatures rise and more people participate in water-related activities. The infection typically occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose while the person is swimming underwater or diving and travels to the brain."
The infection cannot be spread from person to person or contracted from a maintained pool, the KDHE said.
Symptoms of PAM include headache, fever, nausea, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures and hallucinations, the KDHE said.
Hally's kidneys have been donated to two people, according to her family.
To avoid PAM, you're advised:
-Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
-Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
-Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature.
-Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
Statement from Hally's family:
Our precious daughter Hally loved life and part of her great joy in life was spending time playing in the water.
Her life was taken by a rare amoeba organism that grows in many different fresh water settings. We want you to know this tragic event is very, very rare, and this is not something to become fearful about.
We hope you will not live in fear of this rare infection that took our daughter’s life. Our family is very active in water sports, and we will continue to be.
We pray that Hally’s life is not in vain. We are so thankful that she is now with Jesus and her spirit lives on.
We appreciate all the love and support from everyone.
We also want you to know that we have set up a scholarship fund in Hally’s honor. If you wish to donate, please send your gifts to the Hally “Bug” Yust K-State Women’s Basketball Scholarship, Ahearn Fund, 1800 College Ave., Suite 138, Manhattan, KS 66502. We hope that this will provide educational opportunities for young women who loved basketball as much as Hally did.
If you really want to report the right story, dig into who Hally was and her love for Jesus, not what took her life.
Thank you and God bless.
There is no known way to control the occurrence of Naeglaria fowleri in freshwater lakes and rivers. More information: cdc.gov/healthyswimming.