Patient infected with rare brain-eating amoeba in Florida, health officials say

Naegleria fowleri commonly found in freshwater

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – A patient in Hillsborough County has become infected with a rare and usually deadly brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The amoeba is commonly found in freshwater and infects someone when contaminated water enters that person’s nose.

From there, it travels to the brain and causes primary amebic meningoencepalitis, which causes the patient’s brain tissue to be destroyed. The disease is usually fatal.

Infections are rare with only 37 cases in Florida since 1962. Those infections are mostly likely to occur in July, August and September when the water in lakes, rivers, ponds and canals is warmer.

“Naegleria fowleri is found in many warm freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers in the United States, but is more common in southern states. The low number of infections makes it difficult to know why a few people have been infected compared to the millions of other people that used the same or similar waters across the U.S.,” a news release from the FDOH read.

Health officials urged swimmers to take the following precautions in case the amoeba is present:

  • 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.

They also suggested contacting a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms after swimming:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Loss of balance
  • Hallucinations

The disease is progressive so early intervention is key.

Health officials did not provide any information about the patient, where they were infected or their prognosis.

To read more about the amoeba, click here.