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Child’s death from rare infection linked to Arlington splash pad, officials say

A child who died this month from a rare infection caused by an amoeba likely contracted it from an Arlington splash pad, city and public health officials said Monday.

The child was hospitalized at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and often fatal infection caused by Naegleria fowlerisometimes called a brain-eating amoeba.

The child died on Sept. 11, the city of Arlington and Tarrant County Public Health Department announced in a joint news release. They declined to provide the age, sex or additional details for the child, citing the need to protect the child’s identity.

On Sept. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of active N. fowleri amoeba from water samples taken from the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad, where the child had played, and determined the site was the likely source of the child’s exposure, according to the city and health department.

Symptoms of primary amebic meningoencephalitis typically present within nine days of infection and include fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC. No additional cases of the infection have been reported to Tarrant County.

In recent weeks, the city said, an internal investigation has revealed issues with water quality, incomplete records and gaps in inspections at the splash pads, including the one at Don Misenhimer Par

“We have identified gaps in our daily inspection program,” deputy city manager Lemuel Randolph said in the press release. “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.”

Records from two of the four splash pads — Don Misenhimer Park and The Beacon Recreation Center — showed that city employees did not consistently record, or in some cases did not conduct, water-quality testing that is required before the facilities’ opening each day, the press release said. That includes checking for chlorine, a disinfectant used to prevent harmful organic matter.

When chlorine level readings were below minimum state standards at those locations, the inspection log did not consistently reflect what action city employees took to bring the chlorination levels up, according to the news release.

For example, the city said, the logs did not always show how much disinfectant chemical was manually added to the splash pad’s water system. The logs also did not consistently include a follow-up reading to confirm that the water chlorination levels were at acceptable levels after treatment.

Additionally, a review of inspection logs found that water chlorination readings were not documented at Don Misenhimer splash pad on two of the three dates that the child visited the location in late August and early September.

Documents show that chlorination levels two days before his last visit were within acceptable ranges. However, the next documented reading, which occurred the day after the child visited, shows that the chlorination level had fallen below the minimum requirement and that additional chlorine was added to the water system.

The risk of N. fowleri infection is exceedingly low, with only 34 reported infections in the United States between 2010 and 2019, according to the CDC. N. fowleri infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, such as lakes and rivers.

The city closed the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad on Sept. 5, immediately after it was notified of the child’s illness, then closed all public splash pads for the remainder of the year.

Drinking water is not affected, the city said. The splash pad is equipped with a backflow prevention device designed to isolate the facility’s water system from the city’s water distribution system, according to the release.

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