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Man contracts brain-eating amoeba after sinus rinse with tap water, dies: Report

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A Florida man has passed away after he contracted a rare, deadly, brain-eating amoeba, perhaps from a sinus rinse with tap water.

On February 23, the Florida Department of Health announced that a man in Charlotte County had died three days earlier after developing an infection from Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic, single-celled organism found throughout the world, especially in warm, freshwater bodies, like lakes and rivers. Though ingesting N. fowleri is not harmful, the bacteria can be deadly if it enters the brain through the nasal cavity, causing an infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis or PAM, which is fatal in 97% of cases.

The victim, whose name has not been released, is believed to have conducted a sinus rinse using tap water containing the bacteria. Because tap water can carry such parasites, those who use neti pots to perform a sinus rinse are advised to use only sterile or distilled water. Even tap water filtered through Brita can still be contaminated and is not considered safe for neti-pot use.

Luckily, PAM is extremely rare. The death in Charlotte County marks the first time that a person contracted N. fowleri through tap water in Florida and the first instance in the entire country that a person developed PAM during the winter months. The U.S. typically has only about three cases of PAM each year, which usually develop after a person has gone swimming in a local lake or river. Last year, Iowa, Nebraska, and Arizona each reported one case of PAM.

Symptoms of PAM include headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance, and hallucinations, the FDOH statement said. Those who contract PAM usually die in less than three weeks, as there are no reliable medical treatments. Just four of the 154 people who have developed the disease since 1962 have managed to survive, usually through aggressive treatments that include medically induced hypothermia to reduce brain swelling.

To avoid coming in contact with N. fowleri, officials recommend avoiding snorting lake or river water while swimming, regularly cleaning pools, and monitoring children's use of tap water in summertime activities like running through sprinklers and playing on slip-n-slides.

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