DOH Charlotte County warns about infections from waterborne amoeba. Here’s what to do

Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Naegleria fowleri, referred to as the brain-eating amoeba. (Credit: CBS)
Naegleria fowleri, referred to as the brain-eating amoeba. (Credit: CBS)

The Florida Department of Health (DOH-Charlotte) in Charlotte County has confirmed one Florida case recently infected with Naegleria fowleri, possibly as a result of sinus rinse practices utilizing tap water.

Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic single-celled living amoeba. Health officials emphasize that infection with Naegleria fowleri is rare and can only happen when water contaminated with amoebae enters the body through the nose. You cannot be infected by drinking tap water.

In rare situations, the amoeba can cause an infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. DOH-Charlotte, as part of a multi-agency response, is continuing to investigate how this infection occurred and is working with the local public utilities to identify any potential links and take any necessary corrective actions.

Residents in Charlotte County should follow the instructions below:

  • When making sinus rinse solutions, use only distilled or sterile water. Tap water should be boiled for at least 1 minute and cooled before sinus rinsing.
  • Do not allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow-up pools.
  • Do not jump into or put your head under bathing water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/blow-up pools) – walk or lower yourself in.
  • Do not allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to prevent water from going up the nose.
  • Keep small hard plastic or blow-up pools clean by emptying, scrubbing, and allowing them to dry after each use.
  • Keep your swimming pool adequately disinfected before and during use.

The Department is working with healthcare facilities to monitor any indications of additional infections. 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:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Loss of balance
  • Hallucinations

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