Thursday, August 15, 2013

Brain-Eating Amoeba Not Found In Drinking Water?

Health Department Releases Additional Information On Deadly Disease

LABELLE, FL. -- The Florida Department of Health in Hendry and Glades Counties today made additional comments about Naegleria fowleri, commonly called "brain-eating amoeba".

The latest victim of the disease is 12-year old Zachary Reyna, a LaBelle Middle School student. He lives with his parents, Jessie Reyna Jr. and Betsy Villareal on four acres in the Port LaBelle Ranchettes section of Glades County, Florida where it is believed he most likely was infected when water entered his nose as he played in a drainage ditch near his home.

Zachary Reyna is getting treatment with an experimental drug from Germany at the Children's Hospital in Miami, after receiving permission from the CDC for use of the drug.

Fund raising efforts, including two morning prayer meetings, t-shirt sales, and a bank account for donations have raised several thousands of dollars for the family. A dinner benefit is scheduled at Barron Park in LaBelle on Saturday.

Mr. Reyna and Betsy Villareal own J.R. Harvesting, Inc. and Mr. Reyna is an officer in Caloosa Cats, Inc. and Hooked Deals & Apparel, Inc. Between the two, they also own four homes in the LaBelle area.

Initial symptoms of PAM usually start within 1 to 7 days after infection. The initial symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Other symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly.

The longest survival time for any victim has been 12 days, with most dying within a few days to a week. Reyna is now believed to be in the 12th day with the usually fatal brain infection

Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic amoeba which is a single-celled living organism. It can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Infections are rare, but can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. 

Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM (which destroys brain tissue). Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels. The peak season for this amoeba is July, August and September.

The exact water source of exposure cannot be exactly identified because the amoeba occurs naturally in warm freshwater sources such as rivers, lakes, ponds, canals, and ditches. Because the amoeba is found in most freshwater sources, and because of the inconsistency in test results, the CDC does not recommend specific testing of freshwater sources. 

For informational research, the CDC does collect information such as water temperatures, water depths, water clarity and air temperatures in the surrounding areas of where a case has been confirmed. The low number of infections makes it difficult to know why a few people have been infected compared to the millions of other people that used the same or similar waters across the U.S.

There have  been local news reports questioning exposure risks from water sprinklers. According to the CDC, there are no reports of infections from this route of exposure in the US and it would be very unlikely that this activity could lead to infection. If the sprinklers are using canal water, that would be a slightly higher risk but still very unlikely since people would not generally force that water up their nose.

The organism is most commonly found in warm freshwater like lakes, rivers, ponds, canals, and ditches. The organism should not be found in treated tap water that uses filtration and disinfection and would not be expected to be found in groundwater from private wells because the water is cooler than ideal for Naegleria growth and there would not be abundant bacteria for Naegleria to feed upon.

A Wikipedia article does note that two people in the U.S. were infected by water from a geothermal (naturally hot) drinking water supply. And in 2011, there were two unusual cases in which Louisiana residents died after becoming infected by using neti pots with household tap water, leading to CDC recommendations against using untreated tap water

Infections in other countries - Are swimming pools and tap water safe?

An article in Wikipedia notes that between 1962 and 1965, 16 young people died of PAM in Czechoslovakia as a consequence of bathing in an indoor swimming pool, although the CDC has not issued a warning about swimming pool water in the U.S.

Similarly the article notes from July to October 2012, 22 people in the southern part of Pakistan died within a week from Naegleria infection. At least 13 cases have been reported in Karachi, Pakistan, in patients who had no history of aquatic activities.

Infection likely occurred through ablution with tap water. It may be attributed to rising temperatures, reduced levels of chlorine in potable water, or deteriorating water distribution systems.

Health Department: Ways to reduce your risk from Naegleria fowleri infection

-Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
-Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
-Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

You cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water and the amoeba is not found in salt water, says the health department.

For more information about Naegleria fowleri, visit the CDC website

Public Service Announcement regarding Naegleria fowleri:

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