Health Dept. issues alert regarding parasite in lake and pond water

The Volusia County Health Department is advising school students who are out for summer vacation and other members of the public to avoid swimming in freshwater lakes and ponds due to the threat posed by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri.

Naegleria is a microscopic amoeba most commonly found in the upper layer of sediment in the bottom of lakes and ponds with mud floors. The threat of infection, although rare, increases during hot summer months. Avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of freshwater when the water is warm and the water levels are low. The chances of becoming infected rise as temperatures rise.

Naegleria fowleri infection is also called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Generally, if not diagnosed within 48 hours, the amoebas invade the brain and death usually occurs within a week to 10 days. This infection cannot be spread from person to person or contracted from a properly maintained swimming pool.

“The infection occurs when the amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain and spinal cord while the person is swimming underwater or diving,” said Chip Schelble, Volusia County Health Department environmental supervisor.

People should seek immediate medical attention if experiencing the following symptoms after swimming in freshwater:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck

The following precautions are advised to decrease the possibility of infection:

  • Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs, and thermally-polluted water such as water around power plants
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels
  • Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs. Closing your nostrils may reduce your risk of becoming infected.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sentiment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas

Although the infections are severe, the risk of Naegleris fowleri is very low. There are no reported cases of Naegleria fowleri in Volusia County.