With temperatures ramping up this week, Western Australians are being reminded about the risk of amoebic meningitis – a rare but deadly infection linked to warm, fresh water sources.
Amoebic meningitis is caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. Found in the brain causing inflammation and destruction of brain tissue.
WA Health’s Managing Scientist of Water, Nathan Cocks, said Naegleria fowleri amoeba thrived in water temperatures between 28˚C and 40˚C.
“In this hot weather, people should assume that any warm fresh water could contain this potentially deadly amoeba,” he said.
“Be aware of the risk and make sure the water you or your children are playing in is properly treated and maintained.”
In addition to pools and spas, this includes water from garden hoses or sprinklers and wading pools. On regional properties, rivers, dams and lakes are also a risk.
Mr Cocks said amoebic meningitis could affect people of any age, but children and young adults were usually more susceptible to the infection due to their increased recreational water use and activities.
“Although there has not been a case of amoebic meningitis in Western Australia since the 1980s, people should not be complacent about this infection,” he said.
“The risk of contracting this infection is always real and precautions must be taken.
“Even with treatment, amoebic meningitis is usually fatal, so prevention is vital.”
Pool and spa owners are advised to closely monitor and check chlorine levels are within a safe range and water in wading pools is changed after each use.
Simple precautions at home:
- never allow water to go up your nose or a child’s nose and do not sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering or washing your face
- run all water from any hose or sprinkler for a few minutes until cool water flows through the hose before letting any child play with water from a hose or sprinkler
- always supervise children playing with hoses or sprinklers and teach them not to squirt water up their noses
- if the water in a hose or sprinkler remains warm even after flushing for a few minutes, do not let children play with it
- disinfect your swimming pool water with chlorine – chlorine is the most effective way to continually disinfect water as it kills all stages of the amoeba
- keep wading pools clean by emptying, scrubbing and allowing them to dry in the sun after each use
- swim in and play with safe (disinfected) water only
- let bath and shower taps run for a few minutes to flush out the pipes
- do not use tap water for nasal irrigation unless it has been further treated.
In the environment:
- stay out of dirty waterholes or dams
- never jump or dive into water to prevent water going up your nose – walk or lower yourself in
- swim in sea water or properly chlorinated pools rather than fresh water
- do not dig or stir up sediment