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Health Department warns of water-borne amoeba that cause illness | Families

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Health Department warns of water-borne amoeba that cause illness
Families, Health, News
Health Department warns of water-borne amoeba that cause illness

Bartow - The summer's scorching heat makes lounging around in local lakes and rivers that much more appealing, but the Florida Department of Health in Polk County wants to remind families to take precautions when doing so.

In a release to the media, department reps warn of water-borne amoeba that cause a disease called "primary amebic meningoencephalitis", or PAM. The amoeba, also called Naegleria Fowleri, naturally occur in bodies of fresh water (lakes, rivers, hot springs, and poorly maintained or improperly chlorinated swimming pools) and cause the disease by  traveling up the nose to the brain and spinal cord.

Department reps say it usually happens when people are swimming, diving, waterskiing, or wakeboarding, but in very rare instances, it can happen when contaminated water from other sources (such as tap water heated to less than 47C) enters the nose.

The department's director, Dr. Ulyee Choe, says there is a "low level of risk for infection", but emphasizes that it's higher than usual during this season, and encourages everyone to keep it in mind whenever getting in warm, fresh water.

"There is an increased risk of infection by this organism in all freshwater areas in Florida, especially during hot summer months," he says. "Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods, causing higher water temperatures and lower water levels."

Want reduce your risk of infection? The Department of Health suggests you use these tips:

  • Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs, and thermally-polluted water, such as water around power plants, especially during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  • Keep your head out of the water, hold your nose shut, or use nose clips
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up the sediment in shallow, warm freshwater areas

If you are irrigating your sinuses (for example, by using a neti pot), use water that has been:

  • Distilled or sterilized
  • Previously boiled for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes) and left to cool; or filtered, using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller.
  • Rinse the irrigation device after each use with water that has been distilled, sterilized, filtered, or previously boiled, and leave the device open to air dry completely

Although infections are rare, most are fatal. Seek medical care right away if you develop a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, and vomiting, especially if you have been in warm freshwater within the previous two weeks.

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