By: Daniel Haight, MD
Wednesday, May 21 2014
This time of year, many people enjoy water activities of all kinds with family and friends. Most Floridians are aware of the usual dangers like lightning, snakes, drowning, and alligators. However, there is one particular threat that is not as well known. It is very small, found anywhere you find warm freshwater, and very deadly.
This formidable peril is a germ found in freshwater, Naegleria fowleri. When this waterborne amoeba enters the nose, it causes Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis, or P.A.M., a fatal infection of the brain. It is so aggressive it can penetrate the thin bone inside the upper part of the nose and enter into the lower part of the brain just behind the eyes. From there, it can damage the whole brain, leading to coma and death within hours.
This threat can come from lakes, rivers or springs. It is even found in garden hose water, pools and hot tubs that have not been treated with chlorine or bromine. Sinus irrigation treatments, like popular neti pots, can also contain this hazard if the sinuses are not flushed with fresh distilled water or tap water that is boiled and cooled before use.
To reduce the risk that your children or loved ones may contract this fatal infection, have them keep their heads above the water or use nose clips when playing in fresh water of any kind. Shallow water is often the warmest and thus carries a greater chance that this germ is present.
Remember that lakes, springs, water from a hose, or in a hot tub or kiddy pool that has not been treated with chlorine or bleach can all contain this life threatening amoeba. Don’t put your head under water in a pool, spa or hot tub if you are unsure if it is properly treated with chlorine or bromine. Enjoying activities in salt or chlorinated water can also reduce the risk of exposure.
Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy the great outdoors. Make this summer as safe and fun as possible! Take precautions to reduce your risks of contracting P.A.M. Too many families have lost a child or loved one because of this dangerous and unpredictable germ.