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Swimmers warned about deadly amoeba

Hernando Today

Published:   |   Updated: June 24, 2013 at 01:04 PM

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BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County Health Department is warning people to be cautious while swimming in area freshwater lakes and ponds.

There is an increased risk of infection by a deadly amoeba that is prevalent in the summer when water temperature exceeds 80 degrees.

"The reason this is so important is because this thing is 100 percent fatal," said Ann-Gayl Ellis, public information officer for the Hernando County Health Department.

Although infection with the amoeba, called Naegleria Fowleri, is rare, there have been cases in Florida in recent years that have resulted in death. Of 128 people known to be infected in the U.S. since 1962, only one person has survived.

The amoeba is most commonly found in the sediment in the bottom of lakes and ponds with mud bottoms. 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.

The disease usually results in death within three to seven days.

Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures and hallucinations.

Ellis said the amoeba typically infects boys.

"I guess it's because boys are more likely to run and jump and play in the water and stir up the sediment," Ellis said.

The infection cannot be spread from person to person. Properly cleaned, maintained and chlorinated pools do not pose a risk for this infection. Unchlorinated pools pose a risk.

Al Gray, environmental manager at the health department, said there are many people who swim in the Withlacoochee River in the Nobleton area who need to exercise caution.

"Our springs are safe because that is not the environment the amoeba lives in," he said.

The health department urges people to take these precautions:

Wear nose clips or hold your nose shut when swimming, jumping or diving in any fresh water.

Do not swim, jump or dive in warm, stagnant, fresh water, such as ponds, storm water and retention areas.

Seek medical aid if symptoms develop or infection is suspected.

For more information, contact the Hernando County Health Department at (352) 540-6812.

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