Johnson County girl dies of rare infection caused by amoeba

07/11/2014 4:04 PM

07/12/2014 3:29 PM

A Spring Hill, Kan., girl who loved water sports died Wednesday of a very rare illness caused by a waterborne amoeba that attacks the brain, Kansas state health officials confirmed Friday.

Hally “Bug” Nicole Yust, 9, came from a family of water sports enthusiasts. They issued a statement Friday imploring people not to live in fear.

“Our family is very active in water sports, and we will continue to be,” said the statement from Hally’s parents, Shon and Jenny Yust.

The family said Hally was in four different bodies of water in the last couple of weeks. As a result, Kansas health officials said, the source of the infection cannot be determined.

Hally contracted an infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is commonly referred to as the brain-eating amoeba. It’s usually fatal.

“Infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers,” according to the CDC.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Hally’s illness was only the second known case in Kansas. The first was in 2011.

But Kansas State Epidemiologist Charles Hunt said Friday there was no reason to believe that cases of PAM are on the rise.

The state health department said there have been 132 cases of PAM nationwide from 1962 to to 2013, with 34 of those occurring between 2004 and 2013. Most have occurred in southern states.

“Our precious daughter Hally loved life and part of her great joy in life was spending time playing in the water,” the family statement said.

“We hope you will not live in fear of this rare infection that took our daughter’s life.”

PAM is caused by an amoeba that infects people by entering the nose. It then travels to the brain. Among the 132 cases reported nationwide, according to the CDC, only three people survived — including two since 2004.

Hunt said the infection causes inflammation of the brain.

“The risk of infection is very low, but increases during the summer months when water temperatures rise and more people participate in water-related activities,” the state health agency said.

Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas state health department, said using nose plugs can lower the risk of infection. It is also recommended that people avoid stirring up sediment in shallow areas.

Symptoms of PAM usually appear within days of infection and include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and body control, seizures and hallucinations, the state said.

The infection is not contagious among people and cannot be contracted from a properly maintained swimming pool.

“We pray that Hally’s life was not in vain,” the family statement said. “We are so thankful that she is now with Jesus and her spirit lives on.”

The family is active in the Pomona Ski Club. Hally’s obituary said she was home schooled and attended Mighty Oaks Enrichment Center in Gardner. It said she had a lifelong passion to be a college basketball player.

“She enjoyed waterskiing, water sports of any kind, farming with Dad, video making, song writing, and spending time with friends and family,” the obituary said.

Hally had three siblings, Parker, Macy and Zoey.

Hally’s funeral will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Life Church, 16111 S. Lone Elm Road, Olathe. The family has established a scholarship fund in Hally’s honor. Donations may be sent to the Hally “Bug” Yust K-State Women’s Basketball Scholarship, Ahearn Fund, 1800 College Ave., Suite 138, Manhattan KS 66502.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com

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