Case of “brain-eating amoeba” reported in Florida, possibly linked to sinus rinse with tap water

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The Florida Department of Health has reported an infection of Naegleria fowleri, also known as the “brain-eating amoeba,” in Charlotte County. 

In a statement last week, the department did not identify the person infected or share any information about their condition, but said the person was infected “possibly as a result of sinus rinse practices utilizing tap water.” 

Contracting Naegleria fowleri causes a brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). This disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is almost always fatal, with a death rate of over 97%. 

Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled living amoeba, is rare and can only be contracted when water contaminated with the amoeba enters the body through the nose. Drinking tap water is not a threat, the department emphasized, and officials are investigating how the infection occurred “to identify any potential links and make any necessary corrective actions.” 

The department emphasized that when using sinus rinse solutions, people should only use distilled or sterile water. If using tap water, it should be boiled for at least one minute and cooled before using. People should also exercise caution when swimming in fresh water. Naegleria fowleri is most often found in water above 80 degrees Farenheit, the CDC said. 

The department warned that people who experience symptoms like headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, a stiff neck, a loss of balance, seizures and/or hallucinations after swimming in warm lakes or rivers or using a sinus rinse should seek medical assistance immediately. These symptoms typically start a few days after exposure. Death occurs within one to 18 days of symptoms.

Naegleria fowleri infections are rare, the CDC says: Between 1962 and 2022, 157 cases were reported in the United States. Of those cases, two people were infected after rinsing sinuses using contaminated tap water. 

Between 1962 and 2022, 37 cases of Naegleria fowleri were diagnosed in Florida, the CDC said. A boy visiting Florida contracted the amoeba and died of PAM in 2020

In 2022, a Florida teen was infected and has been fighting for life for months; according to a mid-February update on a GoFundMe page by his family, he is still alive. If the teen survives, he would be only the fifth known person in the United States to overcome a Naegleria fowleri infection. 

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