ORLANDO – The Orange County Health Department is again reminding everyone to be cautious of amoebic infections, since Central Florida has had record heat and dry conditions this summer. Everyone should take precautions while swimming in warm freshwater lakes and ponds due to the threat posed by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods causing higher water temperatures and lower water levels. The CDC says while infections with Naegleria are very rare, they can increase during heat wave years and usually occur during the summer months of July, August, and September.
“There is an increased risk of infection by this organism in all freshwater areas in Florida, especially during hot dry summer months. Every family should understand the only known way to prevent infection is to avoid water-related activities in warm fresh water,” said Dr. Kevin M. Sherin, Director of the Orange County Health Department.
Naegleria fowleri is a naturally occurring amoeba that can be found in any body of fresh water such as lakes, rivers, hot springs and poorly maintained and minimally-chlorinated or unchlorinated swimming pools. This amoeba can cause an infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) by traveling up the nose to the brain and spinal cord where it can destroy the brain tissue. Infection generally happens during activities such as swimming, diving, waterskiing, or wakeboarding.
Some measures that might reduce your risk of infection include:
• Avoiding water-related activities in bodies of warm fresh water, hot springs, and thermally-polluted water such as water around power plants.
• Avoiding water-related activities in warm fresh water during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
• Holding the nose shut or using nose clips when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm fresh water such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs.
• Avoiding digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm fresh water areas.
Although infections are rare, most prove to be fatal. Seek medical care immediately if you develop a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, and vomiting especially if you have been in warm fresh water within the previous 2 weeks.
People should always assume there is a level of risk for infection whenever entering warm fresh water. For more information and to see a video Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the dangers of amoeba infections, go to www.orchd.com.