Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection Confirmed in Florida, Health Officials Urge Caution

The Florida Department of Health confirmed one case of a person infected with Naegleria fowleri, a rare amoeba that can cause a fatal brain infection.

Health officials in Florida are urging caution after confirming a person has become infected with a rare amoeba that can cause a brain-destroying, fatal infection.

There is one confirmed case infected with Naegleria fowleri in Hillsborough County, which is located in the central western part of the state and includes the city of Tampa, the Florida Department of Health said in a statement this week. 

The amoeba, which is found in warm, fresh water, enters the body through the nose and then travels to the brain, where it can cause a rare but deadly brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance and hallucinations, which may have a rapid onset and require immediate care, according to the Department of Health. 

Naegleria fowleri is found around the world, and the amoeba's peak season in the U.S. is typically July, August and September, but infection is rare. Just 37 cases of Naegleria fowleri infection have been confirmed in Florida since 1962, according to the state's Department of Health, and the majority of cases in the U.S. have occurred in southern states. But the infection is incredibly deadly, with a fatality rate of over 97%, and just four out of 145 Americans who have had it from 1962 to 2018 have survived it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The amoeba can live in lakes, rivers, geothermal water such as hot springs, warm water discharged from industrial plants, poorly maintained swimming pools, water heaters and soil, according to the CDC.

But there are easy ways to stay safe this summer, the Florida Department of Health says, including avoiding swimming in contaminated water near power plants or industrial sites and holding your nose or using a nose clip when swimming in warm lakes, rivers or hot springs. Health officials also advise residents to boil water before using a Neti pot to rinse their sinuses.