A rare case of brain-eating amoeba infection has been confirmed in Florida this week. The Florida Department of Health issued a warning to the residents of Hillsborough County to avoid swimming in freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds and swimming pools that are not properly chlorinated.

Engaging in water related activities during the warmer summer months is being discouraged. Wearing of nose clips is recommended for anyone engaging in such activities. The warning also includes any nasal contact with tap water such as nasal irrigation

Although the DOH has not outlined exactly where the person was infected by the amoeba nor the current condition of the patient, the department assured the public that it is not infectious nor transmissible from person to person. It is a rare occurrence in Florida, as most infections are mostly concentrated in the southern states. There have been 34 reported cases in the entire US from 2008-2018, with 30 of those infections contracted from recreational water activities. The other 3 were from nasal irrigation using tap water while one person was infected through contaminated tap water from a backyard slip-n-slide.

The CDC says that there are no available tests to detect the presence of the amoeba Naegleria Fowleri, so everyone should assume it is present in freshwater across the United States during the warmer season.

This single celled microscopic organism causes an infection of the brain that is usually fatal. It is commonly found thriving in bodies of warm freshwater with temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit and enters the human body through the nasal openings. As the amoeba enters the body it travels up towards the brain and destroys brain tissue.

A person infected with the amoeba will manifest certain symptoms including fever, nausea, vomiting, headaches, stiffness around the neck, disorientation, loss of balance and seizures. Symptoms start to occur a few days after swimming or other nasal exposure. A person cannot get infected with the amoeba by drinking contaminated water as it is only contracted through the nose.

The health department urges anyone who is experiencing these symptoms to immediately seek medical attention as the disease progresses quite rapidly. The fatality rate is 97% and only four out of 145 infected people survived. Most infected patients die within a week of contracting the disease.

The only four people who survived the disease caught it at the earliest stage of infection.

Hunter Boutain
14-year-old Hunter Boutain, became critically ill after swimming in Lake Minnewaska on Tuesday (7 July) Lee Boutain / Facebook