The Florida Department of Health announced that an individual has been infected with a rare, brain-eating amoeba in Hillsborough County. Scientifically known as Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba lives in warm bodies of water and enters the body of swimmers through the nose to wreak havoc on the brain.
According to health officials, this recent infection case is the 37th in Florida since it was first reported in 1962.
The single-celled, microscopic, and water-borne organisms thrive more in warm rivers, canals, ponds, and freshwater lakes of southern states where they get to infect people more between July, August, and September of each year.
“Infections usually occur when temperatures increase for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels,” health officials stated. “It is essential to seek medical attention right away, as the disease progresses rapidly after the start of symptoms.”
As soon as the amoeba enters the body through the nose, it moves to the brain where it fatally attacks brain tissue in a disease known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
Given that infection with Naegleria fowleri is often fatal and deadly, health officials warn people to avoid swimming in warm shallow waters to prevent infections during peak periods of the year. They also caution divers and swimmers in Florida lakes and ponds to use nose clips or shut their noses when taking part in water-related activities.
Swimmers are also warned against using hot springs and bodies of water around power plants since these are easily polluted and favorable to the proliferation of the brain-eating amoeba. And in cases where divers use lakes, rivers, or hot springs, they are warned against stirring the sediments of the water or even digging at the bottom of the rivers so as not to stir the organism.
Health authorities said it is possible for some people to be infected with the amoeba if they use tap water for religious rituals, or use neti pots to rinse sinuses because of congestions. In cases where people must use water for religious ablutions or neti pots for sinus rinsing, they are advised to use distilled or sterilized water, or water that has been boiled and cooled.
People who experience stiff neck, seizures, fever, disorientation, hallucinations, loss of balance, and headaches after swimming in lakes, ponds, or warm rivers are advised to contact healthcare specialists immediately.