A very rare infection called Naegleria fowleri has now claimed the lives of three people. The Naegleria ameba lives in freshwater and enters the human body through the nose. It can infect the brain and destroy the brain tissue.
A young man in his 20s from Louisiana died from the infection after rinsing out his nose with salt water with a device called a neti pot in order to relieve colds and sinus problems. Officials found that his home’s water supply was contaminated with the ameba and have advised only to use previously boiled water with a neti pot.
A 16 year old girl from Florida and a 9 year old boy from Virginia have also died.
Courtney Nash, 16, had gone swimming in the St. Johns river in Florida before she became ill and Christian Strickland, 9, had been on a fishing trip and also gone swimming. Both children complained of headaches and became drowsy and disorientated and died a week after they were infected.
Reduce the Risk of Ameba Infection
The CDC advises that:
• You don’t go swimming in shallow, warm freshwater.
• If swimming in rivers, wear a nose plug so the ameba cannot enter through your nose.
• When swimming in rivers, don’t stir up the sediment.
Ameba infections can also be gotten from swimming in unchlorinated or poorly chlorinated swimming pools and natural hot water springs.
You can’t become infected by drinking contaminated water, the ameba has to go up your nose.
To put it in perspective, there have only been 117 deaths from Naegleria fowleri in the United States since the 1960s. Thirty-two of the infections were reported in the 10 years between 2001-2010.
Symptoms include headache, fever, vomiting, stiff neck, progressing to confusion, loss of interest in surroundings, loss of balance, hallucinations and seizures. Death normally occurs within one to 12 days. There are drugs to treat the infection but they are generally ineffective as almost all infections have been fatal, even in treated patients.
The initial symptoms are sometimes confused with bacterial meningitis.