What to know before jumping in to swimming holes

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) -  The laughter from teenage boys and the squeals from teenage girls echo through the woods at Camp Tonkawa Springs. The youngsters a refreshing dip in the cool water as people have been doing for about 100 years.

Jumping into spring waters is a popular way to beat the summer heat. It's probably the safest too when it comes to swimming in natural waters. Camp Tonkawa springs' manager Claud McGaughey still remembers his childhood swimming hole.  "I remember one time in the Neches River, over there south of Alto. I jumped off the bank and got hung up in a barb wire fence that was under water and had to shuck off my blue jean cutoffs to get out of the water."

In addition, there's the risk of being exposed to nasty bacteria. The worst is primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, an infection of the brain that is almost always fatal.   "This is caused by an ameba that lives and strives in hot stagnant water. As water levels lower the more concentrated the ameba becomes," Tommy wheeler, Nacogdoches Environmental Health manager explained.  There have been only nine cases of pam since 2000 in the whole state of Texas, so it is very rare,but it is a good opportunity and good reminder to know about the precautions when swimming in fresh water.

A combination of lower water levels, high temperatures and stagnant or slow-moving water may produce higher concentrations of the ameba, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Infection typically occurs when water containing the ameba is forced up the nose when diving or jumping into the water or when skiing.   Initial symptoms of the infection include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting.

The ameba does not live in salt water or in swimming pools and hot tubs that are properly cleaned, maintained and treated with chlorine.

DSHS offers these precautions to reduce the already low risk of infection:
* Never swim in stagnant water.
* Hold your nose or use nose clips when skiing, jet skiing or jumping into any water.

Other dangers associated with lakes and rivers include diving into waters that are too shallow or that may hide rocks and debris. Never leave children unattended around water.

East Texas ponds and watering tanks may be fine for livestock, but not very safe for humans. You're better off choosing spring fed waters. At Camp Tonkawa, located north of Nacogdoches on Highway 259,  the water flow is 250 gallons a minute at a constant temperature of 68 degrees.   "It more or less keeps the pond filtered," McGaughey said.

If caution is used when diving and jumping in that makes for a fine swimming hole.