Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba Case in Hillsborough County, Florida

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As if we had not enough to deal with right now!

Health officials say there has been a confirmed case of Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba, in Hillsborough County, Florida.

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SEM micrographs of Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba. Picture via Reddit

One person contracted Naegleria fowleri in Hillsborough County. Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic single-celled living amoeba. The amoeba can cause a rare infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) that destroys brain tissue and is usually fatal.

Infection is very rare in Florida, as there have been only 37 reported cases with exposure in the state since 1962.

The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater like lakes, rivers, ponds and canals, according to the Department of Health.

Infections can happen when the contaminated water enters the body through the nose. The peak season for Naegleria fowleri is July through September.

DOH in Hillsborough County gave the following recommendations on how people can prevent infection:

  1. Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs and thermally polluted water such as water around power plants.
  2. Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  3. 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.
  4. Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

You can also get exposed to the amoeba by using neti pots to rinse your sinuses. So use only boiled and cooled, distilled, or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.

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Naegleria fowleri – Brain-eating bacteria. Picture: CDC

Infection can also be prevented by avoiding nasal contact with the waters.

PAM Symptoms include fever, nausea, headaches, vomiting, loss of balance, stiff neck, seizures and hallucinations. A physician should be contacted immediately if one experiences these symptoms, as the infection progresses quickly.

In the US, there have only been 143 known infected cases of the amoeba, according to the Florida DOH. Only four have survived. So be careful!

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