The Florida Department of Health has confirmed infection with Naegleria fowleri, also known as “brain-eating amoeba,” in Charlotte County.
In a statement last week, the department did not identify the infected person or share information about their condition, but said the person was “possibly infected as a result of sinus lavage using tap water.”
Infection with Naegleria fowleri causes a brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). This disease is almost always fatal, with a mortality rate of over 97%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Naegleria fowleri, a unicellular living amoeba, is rare and can only be transmitted when water contaminated with the amoeba enters the body through the nose. Drinking tap water is not a threat, the department stressed, and officials are investigating how the infection occurred “to identify possible links and take necessary corrective action.”
The department stressed that when using nasal wash solutions, people should only use distilled or sterile water. If you use tap water, it should be boiled for at least one minute and cooled before use. Humans should also exercise caution when swimming in fresh water. Naegleria fowleri is most commonly found in water above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the CDC said.
The department warned that people who experience symptoms such as a headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, a stiff neck, loss of balance, seizures, and/or hallucinations after swimming in warm lakes or rivers or after using a sinus irrigation should seek immediate medical attention should see a doctor. These symptoms typically begin a few days after exposure. Death occurs within one to 18 days of symptoms.
Naegleria fowleri infections are rare, the CDC says: 157 cases were reported in the United States between 1962 and 2022. Of these cases, two people became infected after flushing their sinuses with contaminated tap water.
Between 1962 and 2022, 37 cases of Naegleria fowleri were diagnosed in Florida, according to the CDC. A boy visiting Florida contracted the amoeba and died of PAM in 2020. In 2022 was a Florida teenager infected and fighting for life for months; He is still alive, according to a mid-February update on a GoFundMe page owned by his family.
If the teenager survives, he will become the fifth known person in the United States to overcome Naegleria fowleri infection.