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Florida Department of Health Issues Warning For Swimmers

The Florida Department of Health has issued a warning about a rare, brain-eating amoeba that has infected swimmers.

The amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri, is thriving in high water temperatures and low water levels. Officials have warned the public to be wary when swimming in freshwater with these conditions.

Zachary Reyna is fighting for his life after knee boarding with friends in a water-filled ditch by his house. The seventh-grader was rushed to Miami Children's Hospital, where he was diagnosed with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. He is currently in intensive care.

Reyna will be the fourth child in the last 50 years to survive the parasite. Earlier this summer, 12-year-old Kali Hardig was infected by the same amoeba in Arkansas, and was treated with the same experimental anti-amoeba drug used to treat Reyna.

Getting Naegleria fowleri is extremely rare. Between 2001 and 2010, there were only 32 reported cases in the United States, and most of the cases occurred in the Southeast. The amoeba is fouind in hot springs and warm freshwater, and enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. There is no risk of infection from drinking contaminated water.

Symptoms of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis appear one to seven days after infection and include headache, fever nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck. Other symptoms include confusion, lack of attention and loss of balance. The disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.

Here are some tips to help lower risk of infection:

  • Avoid swimming in freshwater when water temperature is high and water levels low
  • Hold your nose shut or wear nose clips
  • Avoid stirring up sediment while swimming in shallow, warm freshwater areas
  • If you are rinsing your sinuses, use water that has been sterilized.

For more information, please contact us.

Source: CNN, "Florida issues warning about rare, brain-eating amoeba," Aug. 15, 2013.

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