August 31, 2010
In advance of the Labor Day holiday weekend, the Texas Department of State
Health Services is reminding swimmers and skiers to take precautions to avoid
infection from Naegleria fowleri, an ameba assumed to be present in all
rivers, lakes, ponds, tanks and streams.
The ameba can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, an infection
of the brain. Infection is extremely rare but almost always fatal.
Ten cases of PAM have been reported in Texas since 2000, including a child
this month from Tarrant County.
DSHS offers these precautions to reduce the already low risk of infection:
- Never swim or ski in stagnant water.
- Hold your nose or use nose clips when skiing, jet skiing or jumping into any
The ameba thrives in warm, stagnant water but may be present in any body of
fresh water. A combination of lower water levels, high temperatures and stagnant
or slow-moving water may produce higher concentrations of the ameba.
Infection is believed to occur when water containing the ameba is forced up
the nose when diving or jumping into the water or when skiing. Symptoms may
include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting.
The ameba does not live in salt water or in swimming pools and hot tubs that
are properly cleaned, maintained and treated with chlorine.
DSHS officials said closing lakes or other bodies of water is not a standard
public health protection measure against PAM given that the amebas are
ubiquitous, naturally occurring microorganisms and infections are extremely
Other dangers associated with lakes and rivers include diving into waters
that are too shallow or that may hide rocks and debris. Never leave children
unattended around water.
(News Media Contact: Carrie Williams, DSHS
Acting Press Officer, 512-458-7119)
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