(CMR) A man in southwest Florida has died after contracting a rare and deadly brain-eating amoeba, according to state health officials.
The Charlotte County Department of Health confirmed on Thursday that Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled amoeba, was the cause of the man's death. The patient, who has not been identified, died on February 20 after reportedly contracting the amoeba through sinus rinse techniques utilizing tap water.
Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in warm freshwater environments such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs and poorly maintained or lightly chlorinated pools, where it feeds on bacteria. The amoeba causes a rare but fatal brain infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The infection can only be acquired through the nose, typically when contaminated water enters the body.
Symptoms of the brain-eating amoeba can appear one to nine days after nasal exposure, with victims often passing away within 18 days of exhibiting symptoms. Initial symptoms include excruciating headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting, while the second stage can include a stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations, and coma.
While drinking tap water does not cause infection with the brain-eating amoeba, using unboiled tap water for nasal irrigation can increase the risk of infection. Experts recommend using sterile water or a saline solution for nasal irrigation and caution against using water that has not been properly sterilized, including tap water that has been filtered with a Brita filter.
The incident has raised concerns about the safety of sinus rinse techniques using tap water, such as the popular neti pot. Health officials advise the public to use only sterile water or saline solution for nasal irrigation and to routinely clean the neti pot to ensure its safety.
In light of this tragic incident, it is essential to remind the public to be cautious when using sinus rinse techniques, especially when utilizing tap water. While rare, infections caused by the brain-eating amoeba can be fatal, and it is critical to take necessary precautions to avoid infection.
Agency data shows that this is the first infection reported in February or March, as the amoeba lives in warm water. Infections are most common in Southern states and during the warmer months of the year when people are swimming and submerging their heads in lakes and rivers.
Although rare, the infection is extremely deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tallied 157 PAM infections in the U.S. between 1962 and 2022, with only four known survivors (a fifth, a Florida teenager, has been fighting for his life since last summer, according to an online fundraiser by his family).