When Fabrizio Stabile began suffering headaches, it took time for anyone to connect his illness with his recent surfing trip.
As NJ.com reported, the 29-year-old from Ventnor, New Jersey, was an avid outdoorsman who worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Bass Pro Shops. Stabile had recently gone surfing in the wave pool at BSR Cable Park’s Surf Resort in Waco, Texas — a new, landlocked resort that often holds surf-related competitions.
Stabile had returned home to New Jersey and was mowing his lawn when he suddenly got a severe headache. He decided to take some medicine for the pain and lie down, but when he awoke the next morning, the headache had not faded.
At Stabile’s request, his mother went to get more medicine and returned to check on him that afternoon. When she found that he had become incoherent and was unable to get out of bed, she called 911.
According to a GoFundMe page set up for Stabile, doctors initially believed the man’s fever and brain swelling indicated bacterial meningitis. But the treatment for meningitis didn’t help. Stabile’s condition continued to get worse as the hospital continued to test him for other viral or bacterial illnesses. On his third day in the hospital, they finally got a positive result.
Stabile’s cerebrospinal fluid had tested positive for Naegleria fowleri, also known as the “brain-eating amoeba.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Naegleria fowleri is most commonly found in warm, fresh water, such as hot springs, rivers, and lakes. However, the amoeba can occasionally be present in contaminated tap water or inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water.
An individual gets infected by Naegleria fowleri when contaminated water enters the nose — it is not possible to get infected by swallowing the amoeba. After entering the nose, the amoeba travels to the brain, causing a devastating infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis.
Though infection from Naegleria fowleri is extremely rare, it is fatal more than 97 percent of the time. Of the 143 people who became infected with the amoeba in the U.S. between 1962 and 2017, only four survived.
Early symptoms of infection generally begin between one and five days after exposure and include severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. These can be followed by seizures, hallucinations, stiff neck, and an altered mental state.
Because it is not yet possible to control naturally occurring amoeba in lakes, rivers, and the like, the CDC says swimmers should assume there is always a risk to swimming in warm, fresh water. Though swimmers can try to prevent water from going up the nose by using clips or keeping the head above water, the CDC concedes this is a commonsense — rather than scientific — recommendation.
There is no risk of infection from the amoeba when swimming in a properly maintained, chlorinated, and disinfected pool.
Unfortunately, by the time doctors diagnosed Stabile with the brain-eating amoeba, it was too late. His GoFundMe page stated:
By the time Fabrizio was diagnosed, it was too late to administer the drug that had previously been provided to three of the only five known survivors in North America. Even so, this drug is not easily accessible.
Stabile died on Friday, September 21, five days after he got a headache while mowing the lawn. His family and friends have started a foundation in his name to raise awareness about Naegleria fowleri.
According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, BSR Cable Park has voluntarily closed the surf park while the CDC conducts testing for the amoeba in its water. The preliminary results from the tests should be available later this week.
“Our hearts and prayers are with his family, friends, and the New Jersey surf community during this difficult time,” BSR Cable Park owner Stuart Parsons Jr. told the Tribune-Herald. “BSR Surf Resort operates a state of the art artificial man-made wave. We are in compliance with the CDC guidelines and recommendations concerning Naegleria fowleri.”