July 1, 2009
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. Though PAM is rare, it is almost always fatal.
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 typically occurs when water containing the ameba is forced up the nose when diving or jumping into the water or when skiing. Initial symptoms of the infection 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 offers these precautions to reduce the already low risk of infection:
- Never swim in stagnant water.
- Hold your nose or use nose clips when skiing, jet skiing or jumping into any water.
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.
Nine cases of PAM have been reported in Texas since 2000, including one in 2008.
(News Media Contact: Emily Palmer, DSHS Assistant Press Officer, 512-458-7400.)