A New Jersey man who died of a brain-eating infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis was exposed while visiting the BSR Cable Park and Surf Resort in Waco, Texas, during the summer, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District said Friday.
Water samples taken by local, state and federal health officials at the beginning of the month “found evidence of Naegleria fowleri,” the amoeba that causes the infection, according to the health district.
Fabrizio Stabile, 29, visited the surf resort before developing symptoms in September.
A GoFundMe page launched by those close to him said he was mowing his lawn when he developed a severe headache. It hadn’t gone away by the following morning, and his symptoms progressed until he was unable to speak coherently or get out of bed. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found the amoeba in his spinal fluid. “The worst-case scenario was unfolding in front of our eyes,” the site says.
The health department concluded, “epidemiologic and environmental assessment indicate that exposure likely occurred at this facility.”
Although the amoeba itself was not found in water samples from the park, “the presence of fecal indicator organisms, high turbidity, low free chlorine levels, and other ameba that occur along with N. fowleri indicate conditions favorable for N. fowleri growth.”
The tests were taken from the park’s Surf Resort, Royal Flush and Lazy River features. Those areas are to remain closed until “all health and safety issues have been addressed and mitigated appropriately,” the health department said, adding that the owner of the park is cooperating and working to develop a “comprehensive water quality management plan to include current regulatory requirements.”
The BSR Cable Park said on its website that it is installing a state-of-the-art filtration system on the three features to ensure that they are “as clear and clean as humanly possible.”
However, the park is interpreting the test results another way: “Water tests come back clean,” the website proclaimed, adding that “comprehensive test results have now confirmed that the water at BSR Surf Resort meets every standard for safety.”
BSR also offered its condolences: “On behalf of the entire staff at BSR Surf Resort, our hearts and prayers are with Fab Stabile’s family, friends, and the New Jersey surf community. A precious life has been lost, and we are deeply saddened for his loved ones.”
There have been nine cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis in Texas since 2005, according to the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. Centers and Disease Control and Prevention data dating to the 1960s show between zero and eight cases per year nationwide, with five cases in 2016, none last year and no other cases reported this year.
The amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, is found in warm bodies of fresh water such as lakes and hot springs. It infects people by entering the nose and making its way to the brain. There, it can cause a brain infection that the CDC calls “rare and devastating,” known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis. It is almost always fatal, though a handful of people have survived.
Health officials recommend keeping water out of your nose while swimming in warm or untreated freshwater, by either holding your nose, keeping it above water or using a nose clip.