Missouri state health officials has been notified of a Missouri resident with a laboratory-confirmed infection of Naegleria fowleri. Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic single-celled free-living ameba that can cause a rare life-threatening infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The Missouri patient is currently being treated for PAM in an intensive care unit of a hospital.
The source of the patient’s exposure is currently being investigated by public health officials. Local and out-of-state activity are being considered.
The Iowa Department of Health announced that the beach at Lake of Three Fires in Taylor County will be closed temporarily for swimming. The closure is a precautionary response to a confirmed infection of Naegleria fowleri in a Missouri resident with recent potential exposure while swimming at the beach at Lake of Three Fires State Park.
Testing to confirm the presence of Naegleria fowleri in Lake of Three Fires is being conducted in conjunction with the CDC and could take several days to complete.
Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, and ponds; however, PAM is extremely rare. Since 1962, only 154 known cases have been identified in the United States. The only other case identified among a Missouri resident occurred in 1987, and currently, no additional suspected cases of PAM are being investigated in Missouri.
Although a rare occurrence, people become infected by Naegleria fowleri when water containing the ameba enters the body through the nose from freshwater sources. The Naegleria fowleri ameba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue. This infection cannot be spread from one person to another, and it cannot be contracted by swallowing contaminated water.
“These situations are extremely rare in the United States and in Missouri specifically, but it’s important for people to know that the infection is a possibility so they can seek medical care in a timely manner if related symptoms present,” said Dr. George Turabelidze, Missouri’s state epidemiologist.
People can take actions to reduce the risk of infection by limiting the amount of water going up the nose. These actions could include:
- Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
- Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high-water temperature.
- Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas. (These recommendations are best practices but not based on scientific testing since the low numbers of infections make it difficult to show effectiveness.)
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