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Brain-Eating Amoeba in Pools?

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The CDC warns families to take precautions.


Six young men, age 10 to 22, died last year after swimming in lakes or pools infested with a brain-eating amoeba, the CDC reports.

According to WebMD, all six of the 2007 cases were in Florida, Texas, and Arizona:

May/June 2007: Angel Arroyo Vasquez, age 14, of Orlando, Fla., was swimming in an apartment swimming pool.
July 2007: Will Sellars, age 11, of Orlando, Fla., was swimming and wakeboarding in Lake Conway.
August 2007: Richard Almeida, age 10, of Kissimmee, Fla., was swimming and wakeboarding at Orlando Watersports Complex.
August 2007: John "Jack" Herrera, age 12, participated in water activities during summer camp at Lake LBJ in Texas.
August 2007: Colby Sawyer, age 22, was wakeboarding at Lake LBJ in Texas.
September 2007: Aaron Evans, age 14, was swimming at Lake Havasu in northeastern Arizona.

States where the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri or N. fowleri has caused disease include Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

What is it?

The disease caused by the brain-eating amoeba is technically called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. After the amoeba enters the nose, it finds its way to the olfactory nerve, then follows the nerve into the brain. The amoeba secretes enzymes and proteins that dissolve brain cells so it can suck up the debris. Victims usually die seven to 10 days after infection, although symptoms may not appear for up to 14 days.

Initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, inability to pay attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. Death follows the first symptoms by three to seven days.

What can you do?

The CDC recommends families:
• avoid swimming in warm, fresh water
• wear nose plugs if you do swim in warm, fresh water
• avoid digging or stirring up sediment while playing or working in warm waters
• avoid thermally polluted water, such as the water near power plants

Pediatrician Dr. Gwenn says there are a few additional precautions families should take:

Avoid poorly maintained swimming pools.
"When travelling, make sure the integrity of the pool is top notch in terms of chlorination. Ordinarily, I'm not an alarmist, but since we are in a recession, it is possible people will decide to vacation on the cheap. So, people not familiar with pools in poor shape may suddenly come face to face with one -- complete with amoebas. Beware."

Skip the hot springs.
"People love swimming and exploring places they happen upon -- like hot springs," she continues. "This may not be the best idea given this CDC report."

"We don't want folks to panic, but it's important to be aware of the risks," Dr. Gwenn concludes. "With the rise of 'staycations,' many parents might not even know there is a risk that could be lurking in their own backyards."

For other aquatic tips, check out our pool safety resource.

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64 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous June 2, 2008, 5:22 PM

This is so scary. I am not letting my kids swim in lakes anymore. No way.

stinkybrat41 June 6, 2008, 9:28 PM

thank you momlogic once again for life-saving info that is so beneficial to everyone!! i’m curious if this amoeba attacks just males- because just males were affected? in any case it will benefit all to keep this information in mind when considering a swimming pool.

anonymous June 10, 2008, 9:47 PM

Oh my gosh, this is the first I have heard about this brain eating amoeba and my family and I go to the lake all the time and we live in the south. How scary!!!!

ROBIN August 22, 2008, 8:14 AM

Is there any treatment for this if you catch it right away or any test?

robin August 22, 2008, 8:15 AM

Is there any treatment for this if you catch it early? Or any tests to see if you have it.

Anonymous March 24, 2009, 9:11 AM

I dont give a damn about brain eating amoebas.

*tosses kids in the bayou*

Anonymous March 24, 2009, 10:02 AM

Wow. And I was swimming in a warm lake in the south for quite some time already. Funny how these things never seem to strike, but after you know about them, well you are too terrified to swim any more.

Anonymous March 24, 2009, 11:17 AM

I had a brain-eating amoeba once…poor feller starved to death. Your move, Darwin.

Anonymous March 24, 2009, 12:41 PM

People overreact to this kind of stuff all the time. 6 Americans — out of more than 300 million — died from N. fowleri in 2007. That’s less than 0.000002% of the population. You have a better chance of dying from drowning. So saying that, because of this newfound knowledge of the existence of a brain-eating amoeba, you’re going to skip the trip to the lake this summer is just naive.

Dannyboy March 24, 2009, 1:55 PM

Yes. You should all avoid the lakes and hot springs because of this amoeba. That way they will be more private when my wife and I go.

suckit March 28, 2009, 9:22 AM

oh thank god momlogic, hopefully we will soon be terrified of enough things in everyday life that really dont pose much of a threat that we will all be motivated to cage ourselves in gigantic plastic bubbles. PUHLEEZ. *throws momlogic into lake*

ishswdfcer May 18, 2009, 6:10 AM

Sounds like a cool pet! just feed it fish lol

Anonymous December 15, 2009, 5:07 PM

But…how did it get there in the first place?

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There are a lot of strange comments on here.

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