Yuma, Ariz. – The Yuma County Public Health Services said a 24-year-old San Diego woman died earlier this week from a suspected case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, otherwise known as PAM. It’s a very serious form of meningitis caused by an amoeba associated with warm freshwater.
The 24-year-old had gone swimming in the Colorado River, in the regions of Martinez Lake and Fisher’s Landing the week before her infection. Officials are now awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the PAM.
The organism, suspected with assistance from the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, is known as Naegleria fowleri and is a brain-eating amoeba. It’s commonly found in warm freshwater and soil. It causes a very rare but severe brain infection and is nearly always fatal.
The organism infects people by entering the body through the nose. Generally this occurs when people swim or dive in warm freshwater bodies of water, including lakes and rivers. People cannot be infected with this organism by drinking contaminated water, and the infection cannot spread from one person to another.
Infections are very rare, even though Naegleria is commonly found in freshwater all over the world. While it can occur anywhere, infection with Naegleria in the U.S. usually occurs in warm southern states in the U.S. It has caused infections in 15 southern tier states.
Between 2005 and 2014 a total of 35 infections have been reported despite millions of recreational water exposures each year. By comparison, between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 34,000 drowning deaths in the U.S. Including this recent infection, there have been only 8 reported cases in Arizona since 1962.
“It is important for the public to remember, this disease is rare and effective prevention strategies can allow for safe participation in water recreation activities,” explained Diana Gomez, Director for Yuma County Public Health Services District. “While infections with Naegleria fowleri are rare when they do occur it is usually during the summer months of July, August and September and when weather has been warmer than normal allowing for higher fresh water temperatures and lower water levels.”
Personal preventative measures of becoming infected with Naegleria fowleri include:
*Be familiar with your surroundings and avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs, and thermally polluted waters.
*Avoid swimming or jumping intro freshwater during periods of high temperature and low water volume, particularly in areas with stagnant water.
*Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when jumping or diving into bodies of warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs.
*Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while swimming in shallow water areas.
For more information visit www.yumacountyaz.gov/parasite.