How to prevent 'brain-eating' amoeba infections

The key is to avoid getting infected water up your nose

The death of a swimmer from a rare amoebic infection has triggered some alarm among health officials, since a lot of people will be heading to the state's lakes over the next couple of weeks.

The swimmer, whose name has not been released, contracted the naegleria fowleri amoebic infection in Lake Murray, near Ardmore, and died Wednesday of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis.

Nicole Schlaefli with the Tulsa City-County Health Department tells KRMG that's a particularly deadly infection.

"The symptoms you're going to want to start looking for are gonna start with like a headache, high fever, nausea, vomiting - so obviously loss of appetite. Then it's going to progress to seizures, hallucinations, stiff neck, could go all the way to coma," she told KRMG. "It has a very high mortality rate to it, so a lot of people who get it will die from the disease."

The good news, she says, is that the infection is very rare.

"Naegleria is not a commonly-found amoeba in the water system. We've only actually had five cases in Oklahoma in the last ten years," she noted.

Prevention is the key, because the infection can develop fairly rapidly and while treatments do exist, they're not always effective quickly enough to save the patient.

Schlaefli says the main thing to remember is not to get water up your nose.

Use nose-plugs, or simply hold your nose when swimming or playing in natural bodies of water.

Avoid any water that has a peculiar smell, or appears to be cloudy, greenish, or has a lot of algae.

The amoeba is normally found in warm, shallow water near the shore.

The CDC offers the following tips to avoid amoebic infection:

  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
  • Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.





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