A child died Sept. 11 from a brain-eating ameba he was likely exposed to at an Arlington park splash pad, the city said Monday.
Arlington officials and Tarrant County Public Health were told Sept. 5 a child was hospitalized with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and often fatal infection, at Cook Children's Medical Center. City officials closed all splash pads through the end of the year. The city's drinking water supply was not affected.
A county investigation determined the child was likely exposed to the water either at his home or the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad at 201 E. Lonesome Dove Trail. Water samples collected between Sept. 10 and Sept. 14 and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested positive for the ameba on Friday.
Records from splash pads at Don Misenhimer Park and the Beacon Recreation Center show that parks and recreation workers did not consistently record or conduct water quality testing, including checking for chlorine.
The city is reviewing splash pad equipment, supplies, maintenance and water quality inspection policies, as well as safety training and protocol for park personnel. The public splash pads passed inspection before the start of the summer season, but were not properly checked or maintained, according to the city.
Workers did not document water chlorination readings for the splash pad at Don Misenhimer on two of the three dates the child visited in late August and early September. Workers added chlorine to the water system the day after the child's visit, when records show that chlorination levels had fallen below local and state minimum requirements.
Employees did not consistently document how they treated water or follow-up pool readings when water tested below minimum state standards at the Beacon and Don Misenhimer.
"We have identified gaps in our daily inspection program," said Lemuel Randolph, deputy city manager, in a statement. "Those gaps resulted in us not meeting our maintenance standards at our splash pads. All of the splash pads will remain closed until we have assurance that our systems are operating as they should, and we have confirmed a maintenance protocol consistent with city, county and state standards."
The infection, sometimes shortened to PAM, is caused by the ameba Naegleria fowleri. The disease is a brain infection that leads to destruction of brain tissue, according to the CDC, and infects people when water containing the ameba enters the through a person's nose. The risk of infection is low, with only 34 reported instances of the disease being reported in the U.S. between 2010 and 2019. Most infections in the U.S. have been traced warm freshwater lakes and rivers, hot springs, discharge from industrial plants and, in some cases, inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or contaminated tap water.
Symptoms of headache, fever, nausea or vomiting can start one to nine days after infection. Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, seizures, hallucinations, loss of balance, stiff neck and confusion. The disease progresses rapidly and is usually fatal within 12 days of the start of symptoms.
Only four out of the 148 known infected U.S. from 1962 to 2019 have survived the disease, according to the CDC, and it is not clear whether any treatment is effective.