Brain-eating amoebaAs the swim season comes to a close, there is a tragic reminder about the dangers of a potentially deadly amoeba found in lakes, rivers, hot springs, and other bodies with warm water.

A boy believed to have been exposed to Naegleria fowleri recently passed after swimming and diving in Kingman Wash on the Arizona side of Lake Mead.

Naegleria fowleri is sometimes referred to as a “brain-eating amoeba” because it can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a devastating infection that is almost always fatal. Such infections are rare and tend to occur during July, August, and September. 

Naegleria fowleri enters the body through the nose. From there, it can enter the brain. 

Symptoms of primary amebic meningoencephalitis usually begin within one to 12 days. Five days is typical. Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know develops fever, headaches, and/or vomiting after swimming in fresh water. 

Always assume there’s a risk of Naegleria fowleri when entering warm bodies of fresh water, especially during the summer. And please take the following precautions:

  • Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm fresh water, especially during the summer.
  • Pinch your nose, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when in any body of warm water.
  • Avoid putting your head under water in hot springs or any other untreated geothermal waters.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up sediment in shallow, warm fresh water. Amoebas are more likely to live in sediment at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers.

Being in the water is one of the reasons many of us love being in Arizona. I encourage you to keep this rare danger in mind and take simple steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.