The Florida Department of Health reported that a man from Florida passed away due to Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as brain-eating amoeba.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the patient, whose identity has not been disclosed, lost his life on February 20 after regularly using unboiled tap water to rinse his sinuses.
The amoeba infection is only acquired through the nasal passage.
The CDC has initiated an investigation to determine the cause of the infection and identify any signs of further infections.
According to reports, this is the first case of brain-eating amoeba in the United States during the winter months, and the first reported case this year.
Brain-eating amoeba, scientifically known as Naegleria fowleri, is a unicellular organism that can lead to a rare but almost always fatal infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that out of 151 cases in the United States from 1962 to 2020, only four people have survived this infection.
This amoeba is typically present in warm freshwater sources such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It can also be found in inadequately maintained or insufficiently chlorinated swimming pools, where it feeds on bacteria.
Symptoms of brain-eating amoeba generally start one to nine days after nasal exposure and many people die within 18 days of showing symptoms, according to the CDC.
These include severe headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting in the first stage and stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and a coma in the second stage.
According to the Florida Department of Health, it is not possible to contract brain-eating amoeba by drinking tap water. Infections only occur when contaminated water enters the body through the nasal passage.
Authorities have advised individuals to use sterile water when performing a sinus rinse, which is typically done with the use of a neti pot.
This teapot-shaped device involves tilting the head to one side and pouring sterile water or a saline solution into the upper nostril, allowing mucus to drain out of the lower nostril. The process is then repeated on the opposite side.
Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician, The Doctors host, and a member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, has emphasized that it is essential to use sterile water for sinus rinsing to avoid contracting rare, but possible, amoeba infections. It is important to always follow the instructions and use pre-packaged, certified sterile water from a pharmacy or drugstore instead of relying on tap water filtered through a Brita water filter. Furthermore, Stork emphasizes that the neti pot needs to be cleaned regularly to ensure its safety.
For those who find using a neti pot too risky, there are similar products available that make the process easier. Stork suggested using over-the-counter nasal saline rinses like Simply Saline nasal mists for nasal irrigation.