Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection Kills Florida Man, Health Agency Warns
A man in southwest Florida has died after becoming infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba, which the Florida Department of Health (DOH-Charlotte) in Charlotte County suspects may have been contracted after the man rinsed his sinuses with tap water. The agency has warned people to only use distilled or sterile water or tap water boiled for at least one minute when making sinus rinse solutions.
Naegleria fowleri, colloquially known as a “brain-eating amoeba”, infects people when water containing the ameba enters the body through the nose. Frequently, individuals experience this when they swim, dive, or submerge their heads in fresh water sources, such as lakes and rivers. An ameba can travel up the nasal passage and enter the brain, causing a severe infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). This infection destroys the tissue of the brain. PAM is almost always fatal.
When water containing the amoeba is inhaled through the nose, it may travel up to the brain, resulting in an infection. Naegleria fowleri can be found in fresh water lakes and tap water. It can enter the nose when swimming or diving, or when sinuses are flushed.
The health department has recommended not to allow water into your nose when showering, bathing, swimming, or in a blow-up pool; not to put your head underwater in the tub; to avoid letting children play with sprinklers while unsupervised; and to avoid slip-and-slides. They have also suggested to keep plastic or inflatable pools clean by emptying, scrubbing, and letting them dry after each use, and to disinfect swimming pools with chlorine before and during use.
Early symptoms of a brain-eating amoeba include fever, nausea, and vomiting. People who have contracted the amoeba may suffer from headaches, fever, nausea, disorientation, a stiff neck, vomiting, hallucinations, and even comas in more severe cases. The onset of symptoms is typically seen within one to seven days following exposure.
Official figures show that there were only three confirmed cases of Naegleria fowleri infections in the US in the past year. According to the health department, it is impossible to contract a disease by consuming tap water.
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