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Health authorities in Florida issued a warning late last week to residents about tap water after it was confirmed that a man died from a brain-eating amoeba.
The alert, issued to Charlotte County, said that residents should avoid washing their face with tap water. Officials said the unidentified man was infected with the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, after washing his face and rinsing his sinuses with infected tap water.
But officials stressed that infections from the microscopic single-celled amoeba are very rare. There are no specific treatments for the condition, which kills 97 percent of patients who contract it, according to federal data.
“When making sinus rinse solutions, use only distilled or sterile water. Tap water should be boiled for at least 1 minute and cooled before sinus rinsing,” officials said in a news release to Charlotte County residents. “DO NOT allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow-up pools,” it added.
Officials noted that the infection cannot occur via drinking tap water. The water has to go inside a person’s nose.
“DO NOT jump into or put your head under bathing water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/blow-up pools) – walk or lower yourself in,” it said, adding: “DO NOT allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to prevent water going up the nose.”
The Florida health agency said it is working with health care facilities to monitor whether there were any additional infections.
A representative from the Florida Department of Health told WESH-TV that officials are not entirely sure where the unidentified man contracted the infection. It could have been via tap water, but investigators are still trying to confirm those details.
Naegleria fowleri is found in soil and warm freshwater including rivers, hot springs, lakes, and other bodies of water throughout the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately three people each year get infected.
Between 1962 and 2021, only four out of 154 people in the U.S. survived a Naegleria fowleri infection, according to the CDC. A boy died last year who was swimming in Lake Mead, located in Arizona and Nevada.
A 13-year-old Florida boy contracted the amoeba when he visited Port Charlotte last year. According to a GoFundMe page, the boy survived and is still recovering after entering a coma.
Symptoms of infection are initially severe headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, and coma, according to the Florida health agency and the CDC. The infection can be combatted by certain antimicrobial drugs including azithromycin, fluconazole, and miltefosine, as well as the corticosteroid dexamethasone.
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