A 14-year-old boy who developed a rare brain infection after swimming in a Minnesota lake died Thursday, his family said in a statement as health officials worked to determine whether it was caused by a water parasite that's more common in warmer southern states.
The family of Hunter Boutain, of Alexandria, made the announcement in a statement issued through the University of Minnesota Medical Center, where he died.
"Hunter's condition deteriorated throughout the night and he was declared brain dead this morning," his uncle and family spokesman, Brian Boutain, said in the statement. "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."
David Martinson, a spokesman for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, confirmed the boy's death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health have been trying to confirm whether the youth's infection was the result of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, but said Thursday that they don't have a definitive timeline for getting results. If confirmed, it would be Minnesota's third verified death from the amoeba.
The new case has health officials puzzled because it happened in Lake Minnewaska in western Minnesota, a much bigger lake than the lakes where the two previous cases occurred. Cases in 2010 and 2012 happened in Stillwater's shallow Lily Lake. The amoeba had not been found so far north before 2010.
"It is not what we think of as typical because the risk is greater when water temperatures are higher and water levels are lower," said Trisha Robinson, waterborne diseases unit supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Health.
A warming climate could be making it easier for the amoeba to thrive in Minnesota waters, but Robinson told Minnesota Public Radio there isn't enough evidence to support that theory yet. She said it's just as likely that this new case was a coincidence.
While the amoeba is common, the risks of infection are still extremely low, she said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 133 people have been infected in the U.S. over the last five decades. It's almost always fatal.
It enters the brain through the nasal cavity, and diving or jumping into the water seems to pose the greatest risk, according to Dr. Stacene Maroushek, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hennepin County Medical Center.
"Try to avoid getting water up the nose," she said. "Use nose plugs or at least try not to do diving that pushes water up the nose and things."