East Texas expert cautions fresh-water swimmers about risk of brain-eating amoeba

“More than 90 percent of the people who develop the infection will die of the infection.”
East Texas expert cautions fresh-water swimmers about risk of brain-eating amoeba
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 5:57 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2023 at 7:10 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Going for a swim is a good way to cool off in this summer heat. Fresh-water swimming can have an added risk, albeit a very small one.

Naegleria fowleri, also known as brain-eating amoeba, is a one-celled organism that lives in fresh water, like lakes or ponds, not in chlorinated waters.

“Most of the time it’s insignificant. But in the summer time, the numbers of the organisms can increase dramatically in areas with very high temperatures. So in the South, July and August.”

UT Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Richard Wallace says the optimal growth temperature is around 112 degrees. One can get it by an upward force of jumping or diving into the water.

“It appears that the organism does enter through the nose and sometimes goes through tissues and can end up in the brain. And then it grows, and as it grows it damages tissue around it and we get the disease we call meningitis.” said Dr. Wallace.

A few symptoms include severe frontal headaches, fever, nausea, seizures and hallucinations.

Dr. Wallace says it is commonly contracted by youth, specifically 10- to 14-year-old males. But the risk is extremely small, as there are about six to eight cases a year in the country.

When it comes to prevention, experts say to avoid sucking in water through your nose. One can also plug their nose when taking the jump.

Dr. Wallace added, “It’s just a decision you have to make. You can’t make it completely safe. It is a bad disease. But your chances are one in millions.”

It’s impossible to see the amoeba in the water, but experts say to presume all fresh water has it, even though the risk of infection is rare.