South Carolina health officials are reporting that lab tests performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm a resident has contracted the parasite, Naegleria fowleri.

Naegleria fowleri Life Cycle/CDC
Naegleria fowleri Life Cycle/CDC

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says due to federal privacy restrictions, they are unable to provide additional information concerning any individual, including details about physical condition, hospitalization, age, sex, and residence.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed for us today that this individual was exposed to the organism Naegleria fowleri,” said Linda Bell, M.D. and state epidemiologist. “The exposure is thought to have occurred on July 24 while the individual was swimming near Martin’s Landing on the Edisto River in Charleston County. This organism occurs naturally and is all around us and is present in many warm water lakes, rivers and streams, but infection in humans is very rare. In fact, there have been fewer than 40 cases reported nationwide in the past ten years.”

Dr. Bell said that infection from Naegleria fowleri is extremely difficult to contract, requiring very specific circumstances.

“First, you must be swimming in water in which the amoeba is present,” she said. “Second, you must jump into the amoeba-containing water feet-first, allowing the water to go up your nose with enough force that the amoeba can make its way to the brain. Most commonly, exposure results in the amoeba dying before causing infection.

“You should avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of fresh water when the water is warm and the water levels are low. Also, you should either hold your nose or use a nose plug. You cannot be infected by merely drinking water containing the ameba,” Dr. Bell said.

The best way to avoid Naegleria fowleri is through prevention:

  • Avoid water-related activities in warm, untreated, or poorly treated water.
  • Hold your nose shut or use nose clips when taking part in water-related activities.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up sediment surrounding warm, fresh water.

This is the third N. fowleri case reported this summer. The two other cases in Ohio and Texas were fatal.