The ameba is commonly found in warm freshwater (e.g. lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and soil. Naegleria fowleri usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the ameba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM, which is usually fatal. Infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose. You cannot get infected from swallowing water contaminated with Naegleria.
Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control
Peak season for this amoeba is the warm summer months of July, August, and September. Although this type of infection is extremely rare and has only been reported in 37 cases in Florida since 1962, the DOH recommends the following precautions to avoid this infection:
- 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 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.
- Avoid the use of tap water in neti-pots used to rinse sinuses
Symptoms can include headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance, or hallucinations. The DOH urges any person experiencing any of these symptoms after swimming in any warm body of water to contact your health provider immediately, as the disease progresses rapidly after the onset of symptoms.