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
PAM symptoms are similar to those of bacterial meningitis
Here are the most common symptoms for those infected with brain-eating amoebas:
- severe headache
- 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.
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