Florida health officials reported Wednesday that a individual from Broward County has contracted the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri.

Broward County, Florida Image/David Benbennick
Broward County, Florida
Image/David Benbennick

The Florida Department of Health says the unidentified person likely contracted the lethal amoeba after swimming in unsanitary water on a single private property.

This is the fourth primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) case reported in the US since June. The other three cases, from Ohio, Texas and South Carolina all died from the parasitic infection.

This is the 35th case reported in Florida since 1962.

Naegleria fowleri is a relatively rare, pathogenic amoeba found in warm or hot freshwater like lakes, rivers and hot springs. It is also possible to get it from dirty unchlorinated or under-chlorinated swimming pools. This parasite is found worldwide and in the United States, it is found mainly in the southern-tier states.

People typically get it by swimming, jumping or playing in freshwater and get the water up their nose. From there the parasite travels to the brain and spinal cord and necrotizes or basically eats brain tissue. The disease is known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and it has a very rapid progression.

Typical symptoms may start after a day or two; headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms may include seizures, irrational behavior, hallucinations and finally coma and death. The course of the disease typically last about a week. Because the symptoms are very similar to bacterial meningitis, PAM may not even be considered in the diagnosis.

Fortunately, it’s a pretty rare disease, with only approximately 30+ cases in the past decade. Unfortunately, treatment is largely unsuccessful with a fatality rate at 98 percent.