Austin Public Health is reporting the death of a Travis County resident after developing an illness caused by an amebic meningitis infection. The resident became ill after swimming in Lake Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) in August.
“Although these infections are very rare, this is an important reminder that there are microbes present in natural bodies of water that can pose risks of infection,” said Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. “Increased temperatures over the summer make it ideal for harmful microorganisms to grow and flourish.”
There are many risks associated with swimming in natural bodies of water, including amebic infections. To reduce the risk of infection precautions include:
- Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
- Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
- Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
Amebic meningitis does not occur if water is swallowed, but can be fatal if forced up the nose, as can occur when jumping into water, diving, water-skiing or other water activities. It is not found in salt water, or in properly maintained and chlorinated pools.
Symptoms of an amebic meningitis infection — an infection of the brain — start with severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and progress to stiff neck, seizures and coma and can lead to death. These rare infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels.
Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) infections are rare, with only 39 known infected individuals in Texas between 1962 and 2022. PAM can cause severe illness up to nine days after exposure.
A sample specimen from the case has been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further identification.