Brain-eating amoebiasis… A rare infection kills an American in Florida

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — An American died in Charlotte County, Florida, after contracting the brain-eating amoeba, or rare Naegleria fowleri.

The infection is likely the result of “tap water sinus-cleaning practices,” according to a news release from the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County.

The statement was issued last February to alert people of the infection.

On Thursday, the health department confirmed the death of the patient, and officials are still investigating the case.

“An epidemiological investigation is being conducted to understand the unique circumstances of this infection,” Jay Williams, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, said in a statement.

He continued, “I can confirm that the infection unfortunately led to death, and any additional information about this case will remain confidential to protect the patient’s privacy.”

Naegleria fowleri infection can only occur when water contaminated with the amoeba enters the body through the nose,” according to the department’s press release.

And the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County has instructed residents to use only distilled or sterilized water when making sinus rinse solutions.

Tap water should be boiled for at least a minute and cooled before using to clean the sinuses.

Unsterilized tap water is not safe to use as a nasal rinse, as it has not been adequately filtered or treated, and therefore may contain low levels of microorganisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas, according to the FDA website.

However, people cannot become infected by drinking tap water, as stomach acid usually kills these organisms.

What is a brain-eating amoeba?

Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba, a single-celled organism, that can be found in warm freshwater soils and waters, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs throughout the United States.

Commonly called “brain-eating amoebas”, they can cause infections in the brain, which usually occur when amoeba-containing water is passed through the nose, such as during swimming.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Control, about three people in the United States become infected each year, and these infections are usually fatal.

Between 1962 and 2021, only four out of 154 people in the United States survived infection with a brain-eating amoeba, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Just last year, an infected child died after swimming in Lake Mead, Nevada, another child died in Nebraska after becoming infected after swimming, and a Missouri resident died after visiting a beach in Iowa.

Signs and symptoms of infection begin with severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting, and can progress to a stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, and coma.

The infection is treated with a combination of medications, including the antibiotic azithromycin, the antifungal fluconazole, the antimicrobial drug and the corticosteroid drug dexamethasone.

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