Rare case of brain-destroying amoeba confirmed in Florida

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Naegleria fowleri (CDC)

(CBS) — The Florida Department of Health confirmed a case of what is commonly referred to as a brain-eating amoeba in the Tampa area. According to the department, one person in Hillsborough County contracted Naegleria fowleri, which is a single-cell amoeba that attacks brain tissue and is usually fatal.

Since 1962, there have been only 37 cases of Naegleria fowleri in Florida, according to the Department of Health. Only four people of the 145 known infected individuals in the U.S. have survived, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Naegleria fowleri is contracted when contaminated water enters through a person’s nose, and is found in warm freshwaters such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, according to the CDC. Its peak season in Florida is in July, August and September, the Department of Health said, and it grows best at temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is also possible to contract Naegleria fowleri in swimming pools that are not properly chlorinated or contaminated neti pots. A person can’t contract Naegleria fowleri from drinking contaminated water, since it’s only contracted through the nose.

Symptoms of a Naegleria fowleri include severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms can also include stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and coma.

Signs of infection typically start a few days after swimming or other nasal exposure to contaminated water. People die within 1 to 18 days after symptoms begin.

Anyone who has symptoms should seek medical attention immediately, especially if the onset of symptoms comes after swimming in warm freshwater. The four people known to have survived an infection caught it at its earliest stages.

The Florida Department of Health did not give any more details where this case was contracted or on the patient’s condition.

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