By Nate Smith
Autopsy reports released Friday confirmed family suspicions that Waylon Abel, 30, Loogootee, died from a very rare brain-eating disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM.
A post-mortem examination, requested by the family, said he died from herniation and swelling caused from the disease. Abel died on Aug. 7 at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Evansville.
“Abundant parasite organisms with morphology consistent with amoebae are identified,” the report stated.
The disease, also known is some circles as the “brain-eating amoeba,” is very rare but is in fatal if one catches the parasite. The parasite, called naegleria folweri, is found in warm freshwater bodies.
Family members believe Abel ingested the very rare parasite from swimming at the beach at West Boggs Lake in July. West Boggs officials closed the beach Friday for the remainder of the season because of the lack of information on the rare disease.
“We have decided unilaterally to take the step of closing the beach at this time out of an abundance of caution as all parties involved try to find more information to work with,” West Boggs Superintendent Mike Axsom said in a press release.
Martin County health officials said samples from the autopsy have been sent to the state Department of Health who sent it to the Centers for Disease Control. The ISDH confirmed they did see the autopsy results.
The Daviess County Health Department sent out a press release that said further testing is ongoing, but gave some precautions recommended by the CDC.
Those precautions include:
• Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
• Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
• Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
• Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
It is still not known, according to the CDC, the relationship of naegleria and how it forms the deadly disease. Between 2002 and 2011, only 32 infections have been reported even though millions have swam in freshwater lakes and streams. Improperly treated swimming pools may also be at risk.
This year, there have been deaths confirmed in Oklahoma and Minnesota.
John Abel, Waylon’s father, said he is glad to see awareness brought to the disease following the death of his son.
“I know he would (appreciate it),” John said.
Waylon unfortunately left behind three children, a fiancee and several siblings. John said the family is working to continue on in Waylon’s absence.
Martin County Health Officer Dr. Larry Sutton said nose and ear plugs should be worn near freshwater, especially if there is a chance of swimming.
“Because of the warm days we’ve had, every pond and lake in southern Indiana could have this problem right now,” Sutton said.
John and the family have also been advocating the use of nose and ear plugs. So much, he was in a verbal argument with Daviess County Health Department officials Friday and deputies were called to the headquarters. They asked to see the information and relayed it to state officials.
“You are OK to swim in the water if you have nose plugs, and ear plugs if you have a busted ear drum,” John Abel said.
West Boggs officials said because the disease is so rare, there is not much known about it and what agencies like West Boggs can do to prevent it. The CDC said testing poses a risk, and signs do little to prevent it.
“Very little is known about PAM because the illness is so rare that there are not even standardized tests or protocols for how to deal with it,” Axsom said in the release. “Because of this lack of information, we decided that the Health Department was probably not going to be able to qualify or quantify any presence of this here or anyplace else it might be found.
“After trying for a week to get advice from other agencies, we decided that the science is apparently just not there to make the same kind of informed decisions we might make with other pathogens.”