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Take Precautions While Enjoying Fresh Water Activities During the Summer Months

By Kent Donahue

May 22, 2017

The Florida Department of Health-Orange County (DOH-Orange) reminds central Florida families to be safe when enjoying fresh water activities this summer.  The week before Memorial Day (May 22 – 28, 2017) is recognized as Healthy and Safe Swimming Week.  Everyone plays a role in preventing illnesses, caused by germs in the water, and injuries, such as drowning.  

DOH-Orange encourages everyone to take precautions while swimming in warm freshwater lakes, hot springs, rivers, creeks, and ponds to avoid Naegleria fowleri, a naturally occurring amoeba that can be found in any body of fresh water. 

“Dry conditions and hot weather can increase the risk of infection by this amoeba,” said Dr. Kevin M. Sherin, Director of the Department of DOH-Orange. “Be proactive with health warnings for freshwater activities this summer.” 

This amoeba can cause an infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) by traveling up the nose to the brain and spinal cord. This generally happens during activities such as swimming, diving, waterskiing or wakeboarding. While infections from Naegleria fowleri are very rare, they occur mainly during the summer months of July, August and September. Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels. 

Below are some tips to help reduce your risk of infection.

  • Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs, and thermally-polluted water such as water around power plants;
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels;
  • Keep your head out of the water, hold your nose shut or using nose clips when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs; and
Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

Although infections are rare, most prove to be fatal. Seek medical care immediately if you develop a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, and vomiting especially if you have been in warm fresh water within the previous 2 weeks.

People should always assume there is a low level of risk for infection whenever entering warm fresh water.