Summer break in America typically means warm sun and it's the best time to go swim in the ocean, river, or lake. However, The Brazos River Authority in Texas is warning swimmers to avoid the water this summer due to a deadly, brain-eating amoeba.
The Naegleria fowleri, amoeba found in most untreated freshwater and in soil, causes a 'rare but usually, a fatal illness called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). They thrive in stagnant, warm freshwater at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Texas weather currently is at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has agreed with local authorities to stay clear of low water levels at these hot temperatures. Officials shared that infection occurs after the amoeba enters the nose into swimmers diving or jumping into rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds.
The amoeba may also be in contaminated water such as tap water or a swimming pool, which is a rare circumstance. Infection cannot be spread nor does the amoeba enter the body by drinking contaminated water. PAM is a brain infection as a result of the amoeba damaging brain tissue.
Symptoms occur about five days after infection which includes headache, nausea, fever, or vomiting. Proceeding symptoms include confusion, lack of attention, loss of balance, stiff neck, seizures, coma, and hallucinations. When symptoms start, the disease moves fast and results in death within about five days.
In North America, there had only been five known survivors from 1978 to 2016 who received, four of which were Americans and one Mexican. The four survivors were part of the 143 total infected persons in 38 years.
The CDC reported that it remains unknown why up to eight people get infected per year why millions of others do not, including those who frequently swim in freshwater during the summer. Currently, there are still no methods in accurately measuring numbers of amebae in water and The Brazos River Authority does not test for N. fowleria amoeba.
Texas Health and Human Services recommend avoiding water activities during this season as well as taking 'no swimming' signs more seriously. Further prevention includes using a nose clip or holding your nose shut when one plunges into warm freshwater.
Digging in or stirrup up sediment on the water beds should also be avoided as the amoeba may reside in the soils. Also, individuals should monitor themselves for flu-like symptoms if water gets up their nose during swimming.
When symptoms start showing, the best thing to do is go to a medical professional and inform them of recent activities as the four American survivors were diagnosed early and received proper treatment and medication.
Edward T. Ryan, director of Massachusetts General Hospital's infectious diseases division, said that 'Here is a nasty, often devastating infection that we don't have great treatments for.'
However, the N. fowleri may linger in freshwater beyond the summer season. 'As rare as PAM is, the amoeba that causes it is common in freshwater. Epidemiologists have found it in lakes and rivers as far north as Minnesota, which saw its first case of PAM in 2010, and in pools, water parks, and municipal water systems across the American south. Researchers at the CDC have gone so far as to call it ubiquitous. Those same researchers predict its range will only expand, as global temperatures increase.'