The Florida Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed one case of Naegleria fowleri in Hillsborough County.
“The amoeba can cause a rare infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) that destroys brain tissue and is usually fatal. The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, ponds and canals,” according to a health department news release.
“Naegleria fowleri usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose,” according to information on the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control’s website.
“You cannot get infected from swallowing water contaminated with Naegleria,” according to the CDC.
“Infections usually occur when temperatures increase for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels. The peak season for this amoeba is July, August and September,” the health department says.
“Naegleria fowleri is found in many warm freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers in the United States, but is more common in southern states,” the health department adds.
Because there is a low number of cases, it is difficult to know why a few people have been infected compared to the millions of other people who have used the same or similar waters across the country, the health department says.
Though there are only 37 reported cases with exposure in Florida since 1962, the health department cautions those who swim and dive frequently in Florida’s lakes, rivers and ponds during warm temperatures to be aware of the possible presence of Naegleria fowleri.
To help prevent possible exposure, the health department recommends:
- Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs and thermally polluted water, such as water around power plants.
- Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
- Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs.
- Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
- Please note, exposure to the amoeba may also occur when using neti pots to rinse your sinuses of cold/allergy-related congestion or conducting religious rituals with tap water. Use only boiled and cooled, distilled or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.
Symptoms of exposure include headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance or hallucinations.
If you experience any of these symptoms after swimming in any warm body of water, contact your health care provider immediately. It is essential to seek medical attention right away, as the disease progresses rapidly after the start of symptoms, the health department says.
For the latest information about the amoeba, please visit the CDC’s website at CDC.gov/parasites/naegleria/general.html.
Published July 15, 2020
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