Man Dies from Brain Infection Caused by Tap Water

The Florida Department of Health says a local man was infected with Naegleria fowleri — a single-celled living amoeba — that causes a rare but deadly infection in the brain after a sinus rinse.

On February 23, Florida health officials in Charlotte County confirmed a man died due to a rare "brain-eating" amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. According to an NPR report, the amoeba likely entered the man’s nose while washing his face or using tap water in a sinus rinse.

Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled microscopic organism found in warm freshwater, specifically lakes and rivers, hot springs, tap water, and poorly maintained recreational pools. It can also reside in hot water heaters.

Although rare, the amoeba can cause a highly deadly brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

According to the CDC, PAM is almost always fatal. The agency says that from 1962 to 2021, only four people have survived out of 154 known infected individuals in the United States.

However, infections usually happen in the summer months, which makes the Florida case unique.

In a March 2 updated press release, the Florida Department of Health says an investigation into the man’s death is underway. However, the agency notes that Charlotte County residents should practice safety measures until more is known about the source of the man’s infection.

Specifically, they say people should never use tap water for nasal rinses and instead use distilled or sterile water. In addition, residents should not allow water to enter the nose when bathing, showering, or washing their faces. Moreover, people should not jump into or put their heads under bathing water.

Still, officials note that Naegleria fowleri can only infect people by entering through the nose, and a person cannot acquire the amoeba by drinking tap water.

Florida health officials also say if a person experiences headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance, or hallucinations after nasal water exposure, they should seek medical attention immediately.

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