Brazos River Authority cautions swimmers about deadly amoeba

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Summer months mean rising temperatures and thriving conditions for a deadly amoeba in Texas waterways. 

Naegleria fowleri – commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba” – can cause a rare infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The amoeba is a heat-loving organism, thriving as temperatures begin to climb.

As families begin to head to reservoirs or the Brazos River, it’s important to take precautions to ensure everyone stays safe. While infections are rare, they occur mainly during the summer months.

Naegleria fowleri can only enter the body through the nose. The amoeba makes its way into the brain and spinal cord, destroying brain tissue. Water typically enters someone nose while they are swimming or diving into waterways. Infections cannot occur from drinking contaminated water. 

While Naegleria fowleri thrives in warmer temperatures, it also prefers stagnant bodies of water. It’s vital to always avoid stagnant water and take No Swimming signs seriously.

The infection, while rare, is serious. The fatality rate is more than 97%, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Four people out of 143 known infected individuals in the U.S. from 1962 to 2016 have survived.

The only way to prevent an infection is to refrain from water-related activities, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. However, anyone planning to take part in water-related activities should:

· Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.

· Hold the nose shut or use nose clips while in bodies of warm freshwater, including lakes, rivers, or hot springs.

· Avoid putting your head under the water.

· Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm, freshwater areas.

· Use only sterile, distilled, or lukewarm previously boiled water for nasal irrigation or sinus flushes.

Unfortunately, signs and symptoms of the Naegleria fowleri infection are similar to bacterial meningitis, which lowers the chances of initial diagnosing of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, according to the CDC.

Early symptoms include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Those symptoms then progress into stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

By planning ahead and educating those you love, we can all work together to ensure more people stay safe this summer on the Brazos basin. For more information on Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, call the Texas Department of State Health Services at 512-776-7676.

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