It's rare, yet the local risk is real. Deadly amoebas can be found in Florida's freshwater lakes and hot springs, as well as in under- chlorinated swimming pools.
The single-cell organism, Naegleria fowleri, enters a person through the nose and attacks the brain by dissolving its tissue.
Sadly, the majority of infections in the United States occur in boys under 13, which could be due to their enthusiasm for water sports.
To help create awareness, Mount Dora Buzz asked Dr. Swannie Jett, of the Seminole County Health Department about the risks, symptoms and precautions.
BUZZ: What temperature does the water have to be?
DR. JETT: Although N. fowleri prefer warmer temperatures, PAM cases have been reported as far north as Minnesota and Indiana, indicating that it can occur in more temperate climates. Water temperature is not a good gauge for the safety of a body of water.
BUZZ: How long after infection do symptoms begin. What are the most common symptoms?
DR. JETT: Symptoms typically occur 1-9 days (median 5 days) after exposure. Symptoms include fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting.
BUZZ: What is the mortality rate once infected?
DR. JETT: PAM is nearly 100% fatal. There have only been 2 known survivors in the U.S.
BUZZ: Do you feel any lakes in Central Florida are safe from infection?
DR. JETT: There is no way to tell whether a lake in Central Florida or anywhere else is safe from infection. Precautions should be taken when swimming in any fresh body of water.
BUZZ: What do you recommend for prevention?
•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.
BUZZ: Can people be infected while in the middle of a lake, as well as the shallow waters near shore? It's often said tubing is safe because the amoebas live in the warm, shallow, muddy bottom near shore, so only activities in that area are at risk. However, it seems that once disturbed from the bottom, the amoebas could drift to other areas of the lake.
DR. JETT: Correct, disturbances can drift to any area of a body of water. Precautions should be taken regardless of where in the lake a person is swimming, diving, etc.
In addition to the amoebas, there is also a rare, fresh-water bacteria that enters humans through scratches on their skin and open wounds. Lake County has over 1000 lakes, so residents should remain mindful of the risks and aware of the preventative measures available.
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