An 18-year-old girl from Ohio died recently from a suspected brain-eating amoeba.
Health officials believe Lauren Elisabeth Seitz was exposed to the amoeba after riding in a raft that overturned at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
The dangerous amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, causes Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare infection of the central nervous system that is almost always fatal.
Symptoms are similar to those of bacterial meningitis. There have been 138 reported cases in the United States from 1962 through 2015. Only three people have survived.
Here’s what you should know to protect yourself this summer:
Naegleria fowleri is found in warm, freshwater places.
This includes lakes, rivers, and hot springs. Infections are most likely to occur during the summer, when water temperatures are higher.
It infects people after it enters the body through the nose.
If water containing the amoeba goes up a person’s nose, it can travel to the brain where it destroys the cells.
Naegleria fowleri can exist virtually everywhere in the U.S.
Swimmers should assume that the amoeba can be found in freshwater across the country. The map below shows the number of cases of PAM caused by Naegleria fowleri by state.
There are ways to reduce your risk of infection.
Try to limit the amount of water that goes up your nose. Keep your head above water, hold your nose shut, or wear nose clips when participating in warm freshwater-related activities. These tips are especially important in hotter climates where the infection is more common.
You have a very rare chance of being infected.
Don’t be afraid to swim. Only 37 infections have been reported in the U.S. from 2006 to 2015, despite millions of recreational water exposures in that time. And you cannot be infected by swimming in a clean pool.
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