Testing to determine source of deadly infection in Tulsa

Monday, August 8th 2005, 12:03 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Health officials Monday urged parents of children who played recently at a city water park to be aware of symptoms of a rare infection, as they awaited test results to see if stagnant water there was to blame in the deaths of two Tulsa boys.

The Tulsa City-County Health Department was testing water that had pooled in a drainage area near the popular splash park in Mohawk Park.

Terrell Hampton, 9, and Martinez Owens, 7, had both apparently played there within two days of each other during the last week of July, said Health Department spokeswoman Melanie Christian.

The boys, who were not acquainted, died within about 12 hours of each other Friday after being infected by naegleria, an amoeba that lives in shallow warm water.

The rare infection occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose and then travels to the brain and spinal cord.

Christian said parents of children who played at the water park within the past seven days should be aware of naegleria's symptoms -- a combination of fever, severe headache with a stiff neck and confusion with hallucinations.

"We are certainly concerned because we had two cases so close together," she said. "It is very rare, and until we investigate further we aren't 100 percent sure where the infection came from."

She did not know when the test results were expected.

With its rainbow of brightly colored sprinklers, children thronged to the park. But city officials weren't sure how many kids had played there within the past two weeks. The water playground was closed Saturday.

"We knew it had to be shut down at that moment because there were so many children out there playing," Christian said.

Water from the park's sprinklers is an unlikely source of contamination because it is cold, chlorinated and moving, she said.

But children playing on the park's "splash pad" apparently also had played in stagnant water that pooled about 30 feet away, posing concerns of cross-contamination, she said.

On Monday, crews using earth-moving equipment began trying to fix the drainage problem that had created the giant mud puddles attractive to children.

"We still don't know yet whether this pond is the source of the naegleria, and this is all precautionary," said Kim MacLeod, spokeswoman for Mayor Bill LaFortune.

The city also was looking at water playgrounds in other parks to see if they have drainage problems, she said.

Christian cautioned that the infection is very rare -- scientists have documented about 200 cases worldwide in the past 40 years. Twenty-four cases were documented in the United States between 1989 and 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.