New Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection In South Carolina: What You Should Know Before Swimming In Freshwater Bodies

A new brain-eating amoeba infection has occurred in South Carolina. A resident of the state contracted the dangerous organism after swimming in the Edisto River in Charleston County on Sunday, July 24.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the South Carolina resident's infection after conducting lab tests, CBS News reported. The brain-eating amoeba, also called as Naegleria fowleri, causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), an inflammation of the brain and the cerebral tissue that covers it.

Though rare in humans (only fewer than 40 cases reported in the last decade), the brain-eating amoeba infection is fatal in around 95 percent of the cases, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). Death usually occurs within five to 18 days of exposure to the organism, with early symptoms resembling a fever but worsens into seizures hallucinations, stiff neck, and lack of balance later on, the CDC listed.

Dr. Linda Bell, an epidemiologist at the SCDHEC, said Naegleria fowleri is naturally found all over the world but mostly lives in freshwater bodies such as lakes, streams, and rivers. It doesn't live in saltwater.

According to Bell, the brain-eating amoeba is very difficult to contract and usually dies before it causes infection to the body. To contract the organism, Bell said a person must be swimming in water contaminated with the brain-eating amoeba.

"Second, you must jump into the amoeba-containing water feet-first, allowing the water to go up your nose with enough force that the amoeba can make its way to the brain," Bell continued, as quoted by WCSC. The organism wouldn't give you infection if you swallowed it.

Bell urged people who love swimming out in nature especially in bodies of freshwater to exercise precautions. She advised individuals to avoid swimming in warm freshwater bodies that have low water levels. People should also avoid holding activities in untreated or poorly treated water.

Other than that, Bell advised people to hold their noses shut or use nose clips when doing water-related activities in locations that the brain-eating amoeba thrives. Another safety tip is avoiding digging in or stirring up sediment that surrounds warm, fresh water.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert, previously told ABC News that people don't need to avoid freshwater at all costs. He said that there's only a small amount of Naegleria fowleri in waters, and that the organisms "hibernate in the wintertime."

A brain-eating amoeba contamination in Texas' Trinity River recently killed three people, Parent Herald reported. In June, eighteen-year-old Lauren Seitz of Ohio died after being exposed to the organism in the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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