Florida Health Department Warns of Brain-Eating Amoeba Risk from Tap Water
Health officials in Florida are warning nearly a quarter of a million people to avoid washing their faces with tap water, following the death of a man from a rare brain-eating amoeba earlier this year.
In February, the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County (DOH-Charlotte) confirmed a local case of Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic single-celled amoeba, possibly as a result of sinus rinse practices utilizing tap water. This is the first ever case of a person being infected with Naegleria fowleri through tap water in Florida, and the first in the United States this year.
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba found in soil and warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs throughout the United States. It is colloquially known as the “brain-eating amoeba” for its ability to cause the brain infection, primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Symptoms can include headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, a stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance, and hallucinations. Patients typically succumb to the illness within 18 days or less, as it progresses rapidly.
The Florida Health Department is advising people to only use distilled or sterile water when making sinus rinse solutions, and to boil tap water for at least one minute and cool it before using it for sinus rinsing. People should also avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm fresh water, and avoid putting their head underwater in hot springs and other untreated geothermal waters.
In addition, the agency is warning not to let children play with hoses or sprinklers unsupervised, and to avoid slip-n-slides or other similar activities where it's hard to prevent water from getting in the nose.
The Department is collaborating with healthcare facilities to keep track of any signs of additional contagions. If you experience any of these symptoms after swimming in warm lakes or rivers, or after a nasal water exposure such as a sinus rinse, seek medical assistance immediately.
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