DHEC warns to avoid swimming in very warm water after death of 8 yr old boy

Blake Driggers (courtesy Prayers for Blake Driggers)

Editor's note: the following is published with permission from WPDE

SUMTER, S.C. (WPDE) -- Reporters from WPDE spoke to state health regulators on how a summer swim turned deadly after the death of a young boy from a rare brain disease caused by a warm water organism.

Eight year old Preston "Blake" Driggers was going to be in the third grade at Alice Drive Elementary School in Sumter. Those who knew him told WPDE that he loved to swim.

Tuesday, Blake died from a rare brain infection after being exposed to a deadly organism known as Naegleria fowleri while swimming in Lake Marion, according to Columbia TV station WLTX.

"This illness is very rare," Dr. William Tynan with DHEC told WPDE. "However it's very deadly and that's what happened to this young man."

Doctor William Tynan is an epidemiologist with the State Department of Health and Environmental Control. He's tells WPDE the amoeba that caused the infection occurs in very warm waters.

"This organism that we're talking about. This ameba is what it actually is occurs in fresh water ponds, fresh water rivers, hypochlorinated poorly maintained swimming pools," he said.

While he says the organism is in most fresh water, Doctor Tynan points out infection in humans is very rare. He says only 32 cases occurred in this country in nearly a decade.

But, he says, if you're infected your chances of survival are just five percent.He also says symptoms come on rapidly including nausea, vomiting, fever, stiff neck and sever headache.

"What happens is through swimming in the water, diving in the water perhaps water skiing, water enters the nose with this organism in it," Dr. Tynan said. "That's actually able to enter the brain through the deep recesses of the nose where it grows, where it causes an infection."

According to a person claiming to be the family spokesperson on the Facebook page 'Prayers for Blake Driggers,' Blake's sisters are being tested and treated with antibiotics and so far all results are negative for the organism.

WPDE reports that Doctor Tynan says they're not trying to scare you or cause panic. They only want you to be cautious.He says you should avoid swimming in very warm water, especially if it's not flowing and use nose plugs when in the water.

WPDE reports that funeral services for Blake Driggers are set for Monday morning in Sumter.