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Florida man dies from brain-eating amoeba, possibly from rinsing nose with tap water


A man in Florida has died of a brain-eating amoeba he may have contracted after rinsing his sinuses with tap water, health officials have said.

The Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County said in a Feb. 23 news release that it continues to investigate the cause of the Naegleria fowleri infection. The patient has not been publicly identified.

N.Fowleri is a single-celled organism found in soil and fresh water around the world. It loves heat and grows best in high temperatures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so infections are most often reported in the summer. Most come from swimming in warm lakes or rivers.

Overall, these infections are very rare and only occur when contaminated water enters through the sinuses.

“You CANNOT get infected by drinking tap water,” the health ministry said in its statement.

Amebic meningoencephalitis
A case of amoebic meningoencephalitis due to Naegleria fowleri parasites seen using the direct fluorescent antibody staining technique.Smith/Gado/Getty Images Collection

The agency urged the public to use distilled or sterile water when rinsing sinuses, a practice that typically involves a neti pot.

“Tap water should be boiled for at least 1 minute and cooled before sinus flushing,” the statement 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 became infected after swimming in Lake of the Three Fires in Taylor County in June. Lake Iowa was temporarily closed after the patient was diagnosed.

In Nebraska, a child from Douglas County went swimming in the Elkhorn River in August and was later hospitalized. The patient died within 10 days of infection.

Symptoms of a N. fowleri include headache, fever, nausea, loss of balance, disorientation, seizures, and stiff neck. The disease progresses rapidly after the onset of symptoms and patients usually die within 18 days or less.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.