Brain-eating amoeba kills man after rinsing sinuses with tap water

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A man in Florida has died after being infected with a brain-eating amoeba from “sinus rinse practices utilizing tap water,” health officials said.

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A news release from the state Health Department in Charlotte County said they continue to investigate the rare Naegleria fowleri infection.

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“You CANNOT become infected by drinking tap water,” the Health Department said in its statement, however, the disease can become contracted “when water contaminated with amebae enters the body through the nose.”

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The health agency urged people to only use distilled or sterile water when rinsing their sinuses, a practice usually performed by using a neti pot. The neti pot is a nasal irrigation device that uses either a saline solution or saltwater to treat congestions, colds and allergies.

Tap water should “be boiled for at least one minute and cooled before sinus rinse,” the agency suggested.

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Known as the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri is a single-cell living organism found in soil and warm freshwater, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs. Infection typically occurs when contaminated water travels up the nose.

From 2019 to 2021, several individuals were confirmed to have been infected with the amoeba from swimming in contaminated waters, most of whom died.

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Symptoms of Naegleria fowleri include fever, nausea, severe headaches, loss of balance, disorientation, seizures, stiff neck and in some cases, comas. The brain-eating disease progresses quickly resulting in a high fatality rate for those infected. Patients generally die within 18 days of infection.

For the lucky few who survive, the infection can be treated using it a combination of medications, including the antibiotic azithromycin, the antifungal fluconazole, the antimicrobial drug miltefosine and the corticosteroid dexamethasone.

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