Central Florida health officials warn of deadly amoeba

Moss Park lake closed due to high bacterial contamination

ORLANDO, Fla. - With summer heat, often comes swimming and activities in bodies of water across Central Florida, but health officials warn swimmers to be wary of a possibly deadly amoeba that can lurk in warm freshwater.

The amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, naturally occurs in lakes, rivers, hot springs and poorly maintained swimming pools and is most prominent in the summer months when temperatures are higher and water levels are lower, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Naegleria fowleri can cause an infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis after entering the body through the nose and traveling to the brain and spinal cord. Most infections prove to be fatal.

The amoeba can enter the nose during swimming, diving, water sport activities and by using unsterilized water for sinus rinsing or irrigation.

Health officials said swimmers should always assume there is a low-level risk of infection when entering bodies of freshwater.

Officials urge those who develop a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting to seek medical care immediately, especially if they have been in warm freshwater within the prior two weeks.

In Orlando, the swimming area along Lake Mary Jane at Moss Park was closed Monday due to high levels of bacterial contamination in the water. Orange County Parks and Recreation officials said the swimming area will be closed until further notice.

Here are a few ways people can reduce their risks of coming in contact with the amoeba, according to FDH:

• Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs, and thermally polluted water, such as water near power plants.
• Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
• Keep your head out of the water, hold your 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 sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

For information, and to see a video public service announcement about the dangers of amoeba infections, visit www.orchd.com.

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