Brain-eating amoeba found in tap water in Charlotte County

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. – The Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County has confirmed a case in Florida recently infected with Naegleria fowleri, possibly due to sinus irrigation with tap water.

Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic single-celled living amoeba. According to health officials, it is rare and can only happen if amoeba-contaminated water enters the body through the nose.

Keep in mind that you cannot get infected by drinking tap water.

Officials believe the patient may have come into contact with the amoeba using a Neti Pot filled with tap water. Directly on the box is a warning four times to avoid that practice.

“Because that’s the pathway for Naegleria to make its way into the cerebral spinal fluid in the brain, what eventually happens is the infection overwhelms the body, and…unfortunately, it’s very dangerous and deadly,” said Dr. Joe Pepe, administrator at the Charlotte County Health Department.

Health officials said the amoeba can, in rare cases, cause an infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

Pepe is unable to share the affected patient’s status in Charlotte County. However, statistics tell us that infection results in a 97% fatality rate.

An investigation is currently underway into how this infection occurred and the Department of Health is working with the local public utilities to identify possible links and take necessary corrective action.

Charlotte County residents are urged to adhere to the following instructions:

  • Use only distilled or sterile water when making sinus rinse solutions. Tap water should be boiled and cooled for at least 1 minute before rinsing the sinuses.
  • DO NOT let water enter your nose or sniff water into your nose while bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small rigid plastic/inflatable pools.
  • DO NOT jump in or put your head under swimming water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/inflated pools) – walk or sink into them.
  • DO NOT allow children to play with hoses or sprinklers unsupervised as they may accidentally spray water into their noses. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to avoid getting water in the nose.
  • Keep small hard plastic or inflatable pools clean by emptying, scrubbing and drying after each use.
  • Disinfect your pool before and during use.

DOH-Charlotte said that if you experience any of the following symptoms after swimming in warm lakes or rivers, or after exposure to nasal water, such as a sinus rinse, you are urged to seek medical attention:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • disorientation
  • vomit
  • Stiff neck
  • To attack
  • Loss of balance
  • Hallucinations

Although the infection is extremely rare, you can avoid potential contamination by using distilled or boiled water when using a Neti Pot and by wearing a nose plug when submerged in recreational swimming areas. The Charlotte County Health Department provides nasal plugs to families to facilitate prevention.

“When we see cases, they are often associated with lakes or rivers, ponds,” said Dr. Julia Haston, a CDC medical epidemiologist. “We think the most likely mode of transmission in those cases is actually entering the nose when they jump, swim, dive.”

“From 2012 to 2021, a total of 31 infections were reported in the United States,” the GGD said. “Of those cases, 28 people became infected from exposure to recreational water, two people became infected after rinsing their sinuses with contaminated tap water, and one person was infected from contaminated tap water used on a backyard slip-n-slide.”

“The common misconception is, can I drink the water, can I bathe with the water, can I cook with the water?” said Pepe. “The answer is yes.”

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