By NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

Last fall, 10-year-old Lily Mae Avant from Bosque County, Texas contracted the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri while swimming in the Brazos River and later died from the infection.

Last week, officials with the Brazos River Authority published an advisory about the water-born amoeba that resides in all lakes, streams, rivers and ponds in Texas.

Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, or PAM, the disease caused by Naegleria fowleri, the amoeba that is found in almost all untreated, fresh surface water and in soil. The amoeba thrives in freshwater that is warmer than 80 degrees and stagnant or slow-moving. The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) reports that most PAM infections happen when the temperatures are hot and water levels are lower. As we head into what is expected to be an average hot Texas summer, be aware that this is a disease that can easily be prevented.

PAM only infects people when water containing the amoeba enters through the nose, usually from diving or jumping into freshwater. The infection cannot be spread from person to person or by drinking contaminated water. The amoeba travels up the nose and makes its way into the brain along the olfactory nerve, destroying brain tissue.

Those infected with PAM will usually start showing symptoms about 5 days after the infection. It can often be mistaken for the flu or bacterial meningitis, as early symptoms include headache, fever, nausea or vomiting and can then progress to loss of balance, a stiff neck, seizures and hallucinations. The disease progresses quickly once the symptoms start and usually causes death within two weeks of the initial infection.

If you, a family member or a friend start showing symptoms after getting water up the nose, please get checked by a medical professional immediately. Most importantly, you must inform the medical professional that you may have been exposed to the amoeba by having freshwater forced up your nose.  Specific tests are required to diagnose the illness in time.

While the disease is rare, identified cases thus far have almost always been fatal and mainly occur during the summer months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 4 people in the U.S. out of 145 have survived the infection from 1962 to 2018.

Texas has reported 36 cases since 1962.

So how can you protect yourself and your family? Fortunately, there are precautions that you can follow to help prevent infections. If you do decide to partake in water activities, use nose clips or hold your nose shut while jumping into water. With the amoeba often found in soil, it’s best to avoid stirring up underwater sediment.

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Texas Health and Human Services recommends avoiding water activities in bodies of warm freshwater with low water levels. Health officials recommend people avoid stagnant or polluted water and take “No Swimming” signs seriously. Swimming pools and hot tubs that are properly cleaned, maintained and chlorinated are generally safe, as is saltwater.

If water does get up your nose while swimming in warm freshwater, monitor yourself for flu-like symptoms. If you do start showing symptoms, going to a medical professional and informing them of your recent activities may be able to save your life.