Rare brain-eating amoeba infection confirmed in Florida, health officials say

There have only been 37 reported cases with exposure in Florida since 1962

A person in Florida has been infected with a rare and usually deadly brain-eating amoeba, according to health officials.

The Florida Department of Health announced Friday that one patient in Hillsborough County has been infected with Naegleria fowleri, a water-borne,microscopic single-celled amoeba that attacks the brain.

"Infections can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose," the health department said.

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The amoeba can cause a rare infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) which destroys brain tissue and is usually fatal.

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis, can be caught in warm water locations.

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis, can be caught in warm water locations. (CDC.gov)

Once the amoeba enters the nose through contaminated water, health officials say it then travels to the brain where it causes PAM.

"Infections usually occur when temperatures increase for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels," health officials stated.

The peak season for this amoeba is July, August and September, where it can be found in many warm freshwater lakes, ponds, canals and rivers in the United States. It is more common in southern states.

Health officials did not say where in Hillsborough County the infection was reported or any details about the patient, FOX13 reported.

According to health officials, there have only been 37 reported cases with exposure in Florida since 1962.

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Health officials cautioned those who swim and dive frequently in Florida's lakes, rivers and ponds during warm temperatures about the possible presence of Naegleria fowleri. Adverse health effects can be prevented by avoiding nasal contact with waters since the amoeba enters through nasal passages.

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis.

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Here are the following recommendations from health officials:

  • Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs and thermally polluted water such as water around power plants.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
  • 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.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
  • Exposure to the amoeba may also occur when using neti pots to rinse one's sinuses of cold/allergy-related congestion or conducting religious rituals with tap water. Use only boiled and cooled, distilled or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.

Anyone who experiences headaches, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance or hallucinations after swimming in warm water should contact their health care provider immediately.

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"It is essential to seek medical attention right away, as the disease progresses rapidly after the start of symptoms," the health department said.