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Deaths from ‘brain-eating amoeba’ are rare; here’s how to stay safe

Brain-eating amoeba: What you need to know

Naegleria fowleri, or "brain-eating amoeba", is an incredibly rare and deadly microorganism that can be found in warm freshwater.
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Naegleria fowleri, or "brain-eating amoeba", is an incredibly rare and deadly microorganism that can be found in warm freshwater.

How should you stay safe from the infection that led to the death of an Ohio teen who had visited the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte?

The infection was caused by Naegleria fowleri, a one-celled organism that does not cause illness if swallowed but can be fatal if forced up the nose, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s sometimes called a “brain-eating amoeba.”

People are infected by Naegleria fowleri when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose, according to DHHS. This usually occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. The amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue. Infections caused by this organism are rare, with fewer than 10 cases reported annually for the last 53 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also says you can’t be infected with it by drinking or swallowing contaminated water. It can, on rare occasions, happen if you submerge your head in contaminated water or clean your nose with it.

The organism is not found in salt water.

Local, state and national health officials are investigating the Sunday death of an 18-year-old woman who may have contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba during a visit to the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

The Health and Human Services Department lists some ways to keep yourself safe from this infection:

▪ “Limit the amount of water going up your nose. Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.”

▪ “Avoid water-related activities in warm fresh water during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.”

▪ “Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm fresh water areas.”

Mecklenburg's health director on how concerned people should be about the amoeba and the whitewater center.

Naegleria fowleri, or "brain-eating amoeba", is an incredibly rare and deadly microorganism that can be found in warm freshwater.

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