Mysterious cluster of brain infections in Oklahoma may have been caused by rat urine
A cluster of diseases in Oklahoma may have been caused by swimming in water contaminated with rat urine, an expert suggests.
Several people have fallen ill after swimming in rivers and lakes near the eastern state town of Bartlesville, officials say.
They are believed to be suffering from meningitis, or inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord caused by an infection.
Tests have already ruled out the brain-eating amoeba naegleria fowleri, which can lurk in standing water, but Dr.
Health officials are urging people living in the area not to swim in rivers and lakes in the area before Memorial Day this weekend, the unofficial start of summer.
People who have contracted the disease in Oklahoma include Keegan Smith (pictured) who fell ill after swimming in Copan Lake
The map above shows Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the two locations where local reports suggest cases occurred
Among those affected is the younger Keegan Smith, who fell ill after swimming in Copan Lake near Bartlesville.
His grandmother Terri Smith told FOX News 23: ‘He had a terrible headache, had a fever and had some kind of purple rash on his chest.
“It wasn’t just a normal headache for a little kid, it was a severe headache.”
She said he was being treated by doctors for suspected meningitis.
Tests showed he did not have primary amebic meningoencephalitis or PAM, which is caused by N. fowleri.
Another boy also reportedly developed meningitis after swimming in the Caney River, which runs from Copan Lake through Bartlesville.
Dr. Russo, of the University at Buffalo in New York, suggested Live Science that it was very likely that the boys were infected with a bacteria from the urine of animals, including rats, cattle and pigs.
Leptospira can lurk in these animals and then be excreted in their urine.
This can enter waterways or be washed into them by heavy rainfall, where the bacteria can remain for weeks.
When people swim in contaminated water, swallow it, or go into the water with an open cut or scrape, they can become infected.
The infection – medically called leptospirosis – emerges within a few days to a few weeks later.
Symptoms begin with fever, headache and muscle aches, but can then progress to jaundice, difficulty breathing and meningitis.
Each year in the US there are up to 150 cases of infection with the bacteria. But the disease is rarely fatal: about one in 50 patients dies from the disease.
Outbreaks have previously been linked to animal urine, including one 2018 outbreak in Israel that led to 583 suspected cases after people swam in contaminated water. Leptospira bacteria in the water were eventually associated with wild boar and cattle urine.
Dr. Russo also suggested other explanations for the infections, including enteroviruses – normally behind stomach problems – lurking in fresh water that were then ingested or Listeria, a cause of food poisoning that can also hide in water.
“If the water was contaminated with an enterovirus and ingested, it could potentially cause a meningitis syndrome,” Dr Russo said.
The state health department also says there is currently a drought in the area, which could make pollutants in the water more concentrated.
Several people have become ill after taking a dip in rivers and lakes near Bartlesville, in the eastern part of the state. The two locations where illnesses have been reported at Copan Lake and Caney River (pictured above)
They are urging people not to swim in rivers and lakes ahead of Memorial Day celebrations this weekend.
They said in a statement: “The [Health Department] examines a cluster of diseases in the Bartlesville area.
“What we know at this point is that a few individuals have reported to healthcare providers with different symptoms.
“The initial tests were negative for primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, caused by the organism Naegleria fowleri.”
They added: ‘We continue to monitor for more individuals who may be ill as part of this cluster.
“As research continues, if people feel sick, we encourage them to contact their health care provider and discuss their symptoms.”