Florida warns against tap water after man dies from ‘brain-eating’ amoeba

Florida health officials are distributing nose clips after a man died of a ‘brain-eating’ amoeba believed to have been contracted from tap water.

The Charlotte County, Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and public utilities are investigating the death of the unidentified man. It is believed he contracted the Naegleria fowleri infection after using tap water to flush his sinuses.

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Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic single-celled living organism that causes infection after contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once there, it can cause a brain infection known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, which destroys brain tissue and usually results in death. Naegleria fowleri is most commonly found during warmer months in waters like lakes, rivers, hot springs, and pools that are not properly maintained.

Of the 153 people infected in the United States between 1962 and 2021, only four lived.

The Centers for Disease Control told FOX 4 Fort Myers this was the first case of a person in Florida being infected through tap water. It is also the first case in the United States to occur during a winter month.

Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance, and hallucinations. Anyone with these symptoms is urged to seek medical attention immediately.

Infections are rare and you cannot catch it from drinking tap water. But, as the investigation continues, people are being urged to stop water getting up into their noses, either by clearing their sinuses or washing their faces.

Here are some tips to protect yourself against an infection:

  • When preparing sinus rinse solutions, use only distilled or sterile water. Tap water should be boiled for at least 1 minute and cooled before sinus flushing.
  • Do not let water get up your nose or sniff water up your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic or inflatable pools.
  • Do not jump or put your head under bathing water (tubs, small hard plastic/inflatable pools) – step or lower yourself into it.
  • Do not let children play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water through their noses. Avoid slides and other activities where it is difficult to keep water from coming up through your nose.
  • Keep small hard plastic or inflatable pools clean by emptying them, scrubbing them and letting them dry after each use.
  • Keep your pool properly sanitized before and during use.

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