Brain-eating amoebas: 8 things you need to know

Reports about brain-eating amoeba might have you looking twice at swimming during the warmer months of the year, but it doesn't have to ruin your plans.

Here are some facts you can use to protect yourself from infection--and misinformation:

Infections are greatest during the summer
Naegleria fowleri can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis if you are exposed to them. While infections are rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control, these organisms are typically found in warm freshwater, including lakes, rivers and hot springs, in addition to soil.

Every day sources of water can also be dangerous
In very rare instances, the CDC says pool water that is not adequately treated with chlorine, and even heated and contaminated tap water can also lead to infections.

Brain-eating amoeba infections begin in the nose
The CDC says people are getting sick from water entering the nostrils. The amoeba then travels to the brain, where it causes PAM.

FDA: Improper use of Neti Pots can cause brain-eating amoebas
EMBED More News Videos

FDA changes guidelines for nasal irrigation systems

PAM symptoms are similar to those of bacterial meningitis
Here are the most common symptoms for those infected with brain-eating amoebas:
  • severe headache
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • seizures (in late stages)
  • hallucinations (in late stages)
  • coma (in late stages)

PAM is almost always deadly
Out of 143 documented cases of PAM in the U.S., only four patients survived, including one victim in 1978, two children diagnosed in 2013, and one other victim in 2016.

Doctors have credited aggressive management of brain swelling and an investigational breast cancer and anti-leishmania drug, miltefosine, for saving lives.

In most cases, diagnoses happen only after death
Because of the rarity of the infection and difficulty in its detection, the CDC says three out of four diagnoses are only made after an autopsy.

Infections cannot happen by drinking water
There is a common misconception that drinking water could lead to PAM, but the CDC says swallowing water contaminated with Naegleria fowleri does not cause the illness.

Three ways to avoid a PAM infection
While officials stress that these infections are very rare, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
  • Purchase a nose clip to avoid getting water in your nose.
  • Consider skipping trips to hot springs, lakes and unchlorinated spas.
  • Run baths, shower taps and hoses for at least five minutes before use to flush the pipes.

RELATED STORIES: Brain-eating amoeba

EXCLUSIVE: High school graduate dies of brain-eating amoeba
EMBED More News Videos

Northbrook High School graduate dies of brain eating amoeba, Steve Campion reports.

14-year-old Houston boy with brain-eating amoeba dies
EMBED More News Videos

Fourteen-year-old Michael Riley, diagnosed with a brain-eating amoeba, has died.

Brain-eating amoeba found in 2 water systems
EMBED More News Videos

If you use the water in these two Louisiana parishes, take precautions, health officials say.

Cypress mom who lost her son to brain amoeba wants to help others
EMBED More News Videos

Mother who lost her son to brain-eating amoeba wants to help others

Report a typo to the ABC13 staff

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.