Two Stillwater city officials said they were not notified about the 2010 death of a 7-year-old girl who contracted a fatal parasite after swimming in Lily Lake.
Their comments came two days after the city closed Lily Lake to swimming following the death of a boy from the same parasite that killed 7-year-old Annie Bahneman two years ago.
“No, we didn’t hear anything about the first case,” said Mayor Ken Harycki. “I was talking to Molly O’Rouke and we weren’t notfied, but I believe we weren’t notified because it was such a rare event even then.”
The latest victim is Jack Ariola Erenberg, who died from primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) after contracting the illness from an amoeba during a late-summer swim in Lily Lake.
The illness that claimed Erenberg and Bahneman is rare with only 125 cases reported since 1924. After Bahneman’s death in 2010, Stillwater City Administrator Larry Hansen and Mayor Ken Harycki both reported that they were not notified about the situation.
A state Department of Health official said the combination of the rare parasite and lengthy investigation into Bahneman’s death might have been why the city was not told about the situation.
“Two years ago, the investigation took weeks and months to reach the most likely source of the amoeba,” said Richard Danila, assistant state epidemiologist. “It was the farthest north we had ever seen the amoeba and we didn’t know if we’d ever see it again. Because of the rarity of it we felt it would never occur again. It was one of the hottest summers on record and this year we have another hottest summer on record.”
Danila said the MDH was working with the Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment at that time.
“I don’t think it was a conscious decision not to tell the city since it was such a rare occurrence at the time,” said DPHE Executive Director Lowell Johnson. “We were working with the state department of health regarding the situation around (Bahneman’s) death. It was publicized quite a bit but it wasn’t the kind of thing that we felt was a broader risk to others because of the rarity of the situation.”
In the south, where this amoeba is common, Danila said individual occurrences are not usually reported due again to the rarity of the situation.
Meanwhile, the Stillwater City Council, county DPHE and MDH will meet to discuss the Lily Lake swim area, determine how long the beach will be closed and future plans for the lake. The groups are currently working on plans to put up permanent signs at Lily Lake.
“We’re working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Washington County Department of health and they’re working with the CDC so we’re really depending on them to be our experts at this time,” Hansen said.
For now Hansen said people can boat and fish in Lily Lake, only swimming is prohibited. He added that fish caught in the lake are OK to eat.
“We’re just strictly worried about swimming right now. In order for this particular parasite to get to you it has to go up your nose,” Hansen said.
Danila said that the amoeba couldn’t be introduced into other lakes from boats that have been on Lily Lake. He said it is an organism that lives in the water and there is no way to get rid of it.
Danila added that after talking to a veterinarian at the Infectious Disease Department, dogs that swim in Lily Lake are not affected by the amoeba.
Erenberg of Stillwater and Wyoming, Minn., died Monday night. A visitation is Friday at the Roberts Family Funeral Home in Forest Lake. Funeral services are Saturday at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Circle Pines.