Stay safe from brain-eating amoeba -

Beware brain-eating amoeba

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    Miltefosine, a potentially life-saving experimental drug to treat people infected with a rare but deadly brain-eating amoeba, is now available to U.S. doctors directly from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

A little boy, a young girl, and several others just wanted to go swimming in a lake, but they all ended up dead. The killer was an amoeba. While it is invisible to the eye, it is capable of destroying the brain within a matter of days. Each of their cases was both horrifying and tragic.

Water quality experts say your biggest worry before getting into a lake or stream should be diarrhea, rashes and a host of other illnesses caused by what could be lurking beneath the surface.

When you take a dip in an outdoor body of water, you're sharing a swim with countless  microorganisms. Bacteria, viruses, and algae are a watery playground for protozoa. It's usually not a problem for people until you throw pollution in the mix.  

Whether to clean off or cool off, if you're dunking in the great outdoors, even au natural, you do so at your own risk.  

"You can't just jump into any body of water," according to Water Quality Manager Rusty Rozzelle. "You gotta think!"

Think about what else could be in that lake, stream or pond water, either made by man or by mother nature.

They could be either harmless or, in extreme cases like that of 9-year-old Christian Strickland, fatal.

"Even when they told me he was brain dead, I thought he was going to wake up and say, 'Hi Mommy.' That never happened," recalls Amber Strickland. 

Christian's mind began to blur as a brain-eating amoeba, call Naegleria, killed him in a matter of days.  

The Naegleria latches onto the inside of the nose and heads right for the brain. There is no cure and practically no one survives.

More than 30 cases have been reported in the past 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While rare, it has caused several recent deaths across the country, usually, where swimmers have ventured into stagnant freshwaters and in southern states where the water is often very warm. 

Christian's story has parents across the country watching the water with worry.

"Just out for a day's swim and a day's fun and to have it end so tragically is just a shame," said Lee Drum.

Fortunately, that tragedy, water quality experts say, is statistically slim.

"It's probably more likely we're going to get hit by a meteorite standing here than get the amoeba," Rozzelle points out.

Instead, he says the bigger risk is infection, and that the indicators that something could be wrong in the water are often ignored by the public.

If you're not sure if its safe to take a soak, what you see in the water is the best judge of whether or not you should swim.  

A few ducks may be fine, but flocks can mean you're bathing in fecal bacteria and you don't want floating feathers where you're coming up for air. 

Scan the area surrounding the water. Thick grass growing on the banks or on the bottom of the water and large sections of algae could mean there is a source of food which Rozzelle says is likely coming from nearby streets via a storm drain.  

"It runs right into the creek," Rozzelle said. "There is no treatment."

After a rainstorm, Rozzelle says runoff can multiply bacteria counts as much as 100 times in urban lakes and streams.

Muddy water means heavy soil runoff and higher bacteria counts.

"Would I jump in that water? Absolutely not!" Rozzelle said.

You should also be cautious when the water is very warm because that's when microorganisms thrive. 

"You don't really want to get it in your mouth or up your nose," says 9-year-old Rachel Drum.

Plugging your nose is the best way to keep an amoeba out. For other bacteria and organisms, you need to pay a little more attention before you take the plunge.

Knowing more about your swimming water can be a life preserver.

You can play a major part in keeping your lakes and streams from getting polluted in the first place.

Rozzelle says pouring things like paint or waste down a storm drain likely dumps it right into where you intend to dive. Also, look at the weather before you fertilize your lawn.

If it rains the next day you're washing away a lot of money, and you're giving your lake algae a fertilizer feeding frenzy.

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