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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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