N.fowleri Infections Update

Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba common to warm bodies of fresh water, including lakes and unchlorinated or poorly chlorinated swimming pools. This amoeba can infect the human nervous system and induce a lethal form of encephalitis when a victim insufflates contaminated water deep into the nasal cavities; while infection is relatively rare, only one percent of all victims survive. This parasite has made the news in recent years with the moniker “brain-eating amoeba” because it feeds on the proteins that help form neurons in our brains.

Both travelers and hotel owners/operators need to understand the conditions that encourage N.fowleri infection, as this amoeba presents a significant health hazard and a potential liability. N.fowleri thrives in warm fresh water; it cannot survive in very cold, salty, or properly chlorinated water. Infections typically occur in stagnant bodies of water, often after swimmers have stirred up sediment (which contains N.fowleri spores), and usually involve an activity like jumping, diving, or wakeboarding. In 2012, two people in Louisiana died from N.fowleri infection after using contaminated tap water with their neti pots. Death almost always occurs one to twelve days after infection.

This past summer, a four year-old boy in Bernard Parish, Louisiana, died of PAM (primary amebic meningoencephalitis, the extremely lethal result of N.fowleri infection) after playing on a Slip ‘n Slide. A twelve year-old boy in LaBelle, Florida, died of PAM after kneeboarding in a water-filled ditch near his home. One very lucky twelve year-old girl from Arkansas managed to survive an N.fowleri infection, making her the third survivor in the recorded history of the disease.

Hotel owners and operators must be aware of potential N.fowleri hazards in bodies of water on or around their premises. If you offer guests access to recreational bodies of warm fresh water, we recommend making N.fowleri informational brochures available at your front desk; you may even consider providing complimentary nose plugs. Of course, it is absolutely essential that you keep all swimming pools and hot tubs properly chlorinated. Don’t assume that the water in hot tubs and/or hot springs is sufficiently hot to kill N.fowleri; the amoeba can survive temperatures well in excess of 115°F (46°C) for short periods of time.

Originally published on Thursday, September 12, 2013
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