A man in Florida died from a brain-eating amoeba that he may have contracted after rinsing his sinuses with tap water, health officials said.
The Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County said in a Feb. 23 news release that it is continuing to investigate the cause of the Naegleria fowleri infection. The patient has not been publicly identified.
N. Fowleri is a single-celled organism that can be found in soil and fresh water around the world. It likes heat and grows best at high temperatures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so infections are most commonly reported in the summer. Most come from swimming in warm lakes or rivers.
Overall, these infections are very rare and only arise when contaminated water enters through the sinuses.
“You CANNOT be infected by drinking tap water,” the Department of Health emphasized in its statement.
The agency urged the public to use distilled or sterile water when doing a sinus rinse, a practice that typically involves a neti pot.
“Tap water should be boiled for at least 1 minute and cooled before sinus rinsing,” the release said.
Last year there were three confirmed cases of N. fowleri, according to the CDC, which occurred after exposure to fresh water in Iowa, Nebraska, and Arizona. Three cases were also reported each year in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Last year’s Iowa case was a Missouri resident who got infected after swimming in the Lake of Three Fires in Taylor County in June. The Iowa lake was temporarily closed after the patient was diagnosed.
In Nebraska, a child in Douglas County went swimming in the Elkhorn River in August and was subsequently hospitalized. The patient died within 10 days of becoming infected.
Symptoms of an N. fowleri infection include headaches, fever, nausea, loss of balance, disorientation, seizures and a stiff neck. The disease progresses quickly after symptoms start and patients usually die within 18 days or less.