ALEXANDRIA, Minn. (KMSP) - The Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday an Alexandria, Minn. boy initially thought to have died of a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in a Minnesota lake actually died from streptococcal meningoencephalitis, a bacterial disease.
Hunter Boutain, 14, was swimming in Lake Minnewaska in early July, and was initially thought to have died of suspected primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). PAM is a very rare and most often fatal brain infection caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, found in freshwater and soil all over the world. The amoeba can infect people by entering the body through the nose. This usually happens when people get water up their nose from swimming and diving in warm freshwater.
Hunter's parents said he had meningitis, but its origin had always remained in question as he was being treated. It was first pinned to PAM, but now, health officials have confirmed it was a bacterial infection that killed him. His parents added their son was susceptible to that bacterial infection because of a head injury he received a month before being admitted.
“As a standard confirmation step, testing was conducted at [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to verify that initial finding. In this case, the laboratory testing did not corroborate the initial finding,” state health officials said in a news release.
"The laboratory results help bring clarity to the situation, but do not lessen the tragic nature of this case," the release continued.
Officials stressed there is "always a very low-level risk of infection" with Naegleria fowleri when swimming in fresh water.
“We are looking at should we have changed our message in any way. Should we have changed anything we did in how we talked about this case. If we had waited several days would we have gotten other information that would have helped us say something different as opposed to trying to get there with what we knew as soon as we could,” said Doug Schultz with MDH. “Then again, if we had waited several days and it still turned out to be PAM [the amoeba], I’m not sure Minnesota would have been well-served by that either."
It's unclear how long Hunter had been infected with streptococcal meningoencephalitis, but his mom, Rosie Boutain, sent a text message to Fox 9's Paul Blume saying the family is "relieved" for their community.
"We are actually very relieved for our community. And there is some peace just having finality in the diagnosis," she said, in part.
Full statement from MDH
“Laboratory testing conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently determined that a Minnesota child, Hunter Boutain, did not die from suspected Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) as reported in early July, but instead from streptococcal meningoencephalitis.
The Minnesota Department of Health, on July 7, announced a suspected PAM case based on initial clinical findings reported by the child’s health care team, including preliminary laboratory testing from the health care facility and based on recent swimming exposure. As a standard confirmation step, testing was conducted at CDC to verify that initial finding. In this case, the laboratory testing did not corroborate the initial finding.
The laboratory results help bring clarity to the situation, but do not lessen the tragic nature of this case. The results also do not change the fact that there is always a very low-level risk of infection with Naegleria fowleri when swimming in fresh water. For more information about that risk, please visit the MDH website at Naegleria and Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis.”