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Family files $1.3 million claim against Lake Elsinore in son's parasite death
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07:53 PM PST on Tuesday, February 3, 2009
By LORA HINES
The family of a Lake Elsinore boy who died last summer from a rare amoebic parasite has filed an estimated $1.3 million claim against Riverside County and the city of Lake Elsinore.
Josue Montes, 9, died Aug. 2 from the microscopic parasite Naegleria fowleri, which thrives in warm freshwater lakes. The infection typically enters the body through the nose while a person is swimming.
In their claim, Josue's parents, Mehchsac and Adela Montes, said their son became infected while swimming in Lake Elsinore. They state in their claim that Lake Elsinore and the county are responsible for Josue's death because they did not warn people of the risk of contracting Naegleria fowleri and dying from swimming in the lake.
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The Monteses are seeking almost $103,000 in medical bills, $3,500 in funeral expenses, $1,100 in out-of-pocket expenses and $1.2 million in "general damages."
The Monteses couldn't be reached for comment.
Public health officials have not identified the lake as the source for the boy's infection.
The couple's Santa Ana attorney, Edoardo Salvatore, said there were no warnings about the amoeba at the lake or recreation center.
"This family lost a child," he said. "We'll see what we can do for them."
Lake Elsinore spokesman Mark Dennis said the city's claim adjuster is reviewing the matter. It could take up to 30 days before the adjuster offers the City Council a recommendation, Dennis said.
Lake not tested
Barbara Cole, the Riverside County Department of Public Health's disease control director, said no one tested the lake for the amoeba after the boy's death because officials weren't confident they would get accurate results. Lake conditions could have changed between the time the boy went swimming and tests were performed, she said. Officials also didn't know which sections to test.
County spokesman Ray Smith said administrators are reviewing the claim.
Josue's was the only person in 2008 to die from the amoeba infection. Arleen Porcell-Pharr, spokeswoman for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said her agency didn't receive any other reports last year.
After Josue's death, county public health officials said he had swum in Lake Elsinore several times during the summer. They didn't know whether he got the parasite from the lake or some other place where he might have swam.
In their claim, the Monteses said they sought treatment for their son July 30 at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar.
After entering the body through the nose, the parasite infects the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and stiff neck.
When infection occurs, it almost always results in death, according to the CDC.
Although the amoeba itself is common in warm, fresh bodies of water, infections are very rare and occur mainly during the summer months. Health officials say people always should assume there is some risk of infection when they enter any warm freshwater lakes, hot springs or rivers.
There were 33 cases reported in the United States from 1998 through 2007. Six deaths were reported in 2007.
Reach Lora Hines at 951-368-9444 or lhines@PE