Hally Yust was an avid water skier and spent the past few weeks swimming in several bodies of freshwater. She died last week from Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating parasite that lives in warm, standing water.
At Hally’s funeral Monday, her family wore matching T-shirts with the logo of her water-skiing club, CNN affiliate WDAF said. Relatives honored the young athlete by announcing the Hally Yust Women’s Basketball Scholarship at Kansas State University.
“Our precious daughter, Hally, loved life and part of her great joy was spending time playing in the water,” her family said in a statement.
“Her life was taken by a rare amoeba organism that grows in many different fresh water settings. We want you to know this tragic event is very, very rare, and this is not something to become fearful about.”
While Naegleria fowleri is rare, it can have devastating effects on the human body.
“The amoeba then finds itself way back in our noses and then can work its way into our central nervous system, around our brains,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “And once it’s there, it just causes destruction.”
In addition to a severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, the amoeba often causes death.
The cases are often reported in the summer, when more swimmers take a dip in fresh waters.
Last summer, 12-year-old Zachary Reyna of Florida became infected after he went knee-boarding in fresh water near his home. He later died.
Also last summer, Kali Hardig of Arkansas went for a swim and was infected by the parasite. Despite incredible odds against her, Kali survived.
Over the past 50 years, about 130 Naegleri fowleri infections have been reported. Of those, only three people — including Kali — have survived.
While humans can get infected swimming in fresh water, people cannot get infected from drinking water contaminated with the amoeba, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The extreme rarity and randomness of Naegleri fowleri infections make it difficult to find ways to prevent them, though wearing nose clips while in fresh water could help.
“It is unknown why certain persons become infected with (Naegleria fowleri) while millions of others exposed to warm recreational fresh waters do not, including those who were swimming with people who became infected,” the CDC said.
The agency said it is “unclear how a standard might be set to protect human health and how public health officials would measure and enforce such a standard.”
But Naegleria fowleri is far from the biggest danger in summertime water activities. While 34 people have been infected with the amoeba in the U.S. between 2004 and 2013, there were more than 34,000 drowning deaths in the United States between 2001 to 2010, the CDC said.