SALT LAKE CITY, Utah- (ABC4 Utah) – A parasitic amoeba that causes deadly brain infections has turned up in three soaking pools in Grand Teton National Park, which means the amoeba has now surfaced in the Rocky Mountain West. The microscopic Naegleria fowleri typically surfaces in warmer climates with year round water activities. The Utah Department of Health now says it is likely that the amoeba is also in Utah.
“It’s probably been around for a long time, we just don’t know it because we don’t necessarily test the water and it’s not something that’s easy to regulate. It likes to live in freshwater lakes, typically where its really warm, yes, hot springs, so it’s probably in Utah but again, we don’t test the water so it’s not something that we know is there,” Rebecca Ward of the Department of Health said.
The weather pattern can create an environment in which the amoeba can flourish. Hot temperatures, low water levels and extended heat waves can warm the water and allow the organism to gain strength.On average, there are right cases a year and about a week after swimming in freshwater lakes, ponds or hot springs someone can display symptoms.
“Nausea, vomiting, you will feel very ill quickly and progress quickly into coma and seizures,” Rebecca Ward of the Department of Health said.
Contraction of the amoeba is very rare. Since 1962, there have been 133 cases, three of which survived. The infection is spread only through the nose.
“You cannot get this organism from drinking the water, ingesting it or exposing from one person to another. It’s going to get into your system by getting up your nose and possibly travelling up to your brain,” Rebecca Ward of the Department of Health said.
Your eardrum will filter the amoeba, but your olfactory nerve in your nose is basically unprotected and can easily carry the organism to the brain.
“It’s likely it’s been in Utah for sometime, but again, we don’t swim as much as people in the South do because we don’t have the warmer rivers and lakes,” Rebecca Ward of the Department of Health said.
The organism feeds off of the sediment at the bottom of these freshwater bodies of water, so if you do swim in these areas, try to make sure water doesn’t go up your nose and you don’t intentionally stir up sediment from the bottom. Utah has not seen any known cases, but it is possible and something to be aware of while hiking and biking.
“Just because you may not see a sign posted that it has a particular organism, but it’s also not something you should be afraid of to keep you from swimming and enjoying some of our beautiful hot springs around Utah,” Rebecca Ward of the Department of Health said.
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