BRA encourages safety: Higher temperatures mean higher risks for deadly water amoeba

It’s that time of year when a deadly, but uncommon, water amoeba thrives, which means it’s time to take extra precautions over the summer while enjoying our Texas waterways.

 Commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba,” Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba that thrives in freshwater warmer than 80 degrees; a cruel combination for those of us who also enjoy going for a swim when the temperature gets high.

 Primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, is a rare brain infection caused when water containing the amoeba is forced into the nasal passages, usually when jumping into the water or water skiing. PAM only infects people when water containing the amoeba enters through the nose. This means the infection cannot be spread from person to person or by drinking contaminated water.

 The only way to completely prevent contracting PAM is not participating in water-related activities, such as swimming in a lake, river, or stream.

However, if you do decide to participate, use nose clips, or hold your nose shut while jumping into the water. With the amoeba also often found in soil, it is best to avoid stirring up underwater sediment.

Symptoms typically start showing within five days of exposure, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. They include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. As the disease develops, symptoms can advance to loss of balance, stiff neck, seizures, and hallucinations. The disease progresses quickly and usually causes death within two weeks of the initial infection. It is essential to know the risks as symptoms can often be mistaken for the flu or bacterial meningitis.

The disease is rare, though there have been Texas cases reported within the Brazos River basin.

The fatality rate is more than 97%, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Only 4 people out of 143 known infected individuals from 1962 to 2016 in the United States have survived, according to the state health services.

Recreational water users should assume that Naegleria fowleri is present in warm freshwater across the United States, according to the state health services. That includes the Brazos River and water supply reservoirs we love.

Texans should seek immediate medical care whenever they develop a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, and vomiting, particularly if they have been in warm freshwater recently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You must inform your health care provider of the exposure to surface water in this manner. Specific testing is required to quickly identify the PAM virus, and prompt treatment can save lives.

By being aware and educating others, we can all stay safe this summer in the Brazos River basin.

For more information about PAM, contact your local county health department or the TexasDepartment of State Health Services at (512) 776-7111 or 1-888-963-7111


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