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Unless you live on the coast, hitting the beach isn't always an option when the weather gets unbearably hot. For many, the best way to cool down is by taking a swim in a lake, creek or watering hole.
But is it safe to swim in freshwater?
In Oklahoma, a young boy went swimming in the Red River at a spot called Carpenter’s Bluff. Within a week, he had died from an amoebic infection. While identifying details about the boy have not been released, the press is urging families to learn more about the disease that killed him.
Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) is a disease caused by a single celled parasite called Naegleria fowleri traveling up the spinal cord into the brain. The cell feeds on brain tissue until the brain shuts down and the carrier dies.
While this disease is very rare (only 32 cases have been reported in the last decade), very few survive it. The symptoms start after a day or two of contraction with headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. This progresses into stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, and irrational behavior.
Diagnosis is confirmed by an examination of spinal fluid, and the treatment involves a shot of amphotericin B into the brain. However, even treated, there is a 95% fatality rate.
The best thing to do is to be careful. PAM is contracted when the amoeba is inhaled through the nose. The amoeba lives in fresh water (not salt water) and flourishes in warmth. While it does reproduce primarily in warm or hot water, it will still survive for months in very cold weather.
Health officials urge people to observe these water safety tips to avoid illness while swimming in lakes, rivers and other natural bodies of water:
- Avoid water entering nose or mouth when swimming, jumping, diving, or dunking your head into bodies of fresh warm water.
- Hold your nose or use nose plugs when jumping or diving into water.
- Never swim in stagnant or polluted water.
- Do not swim in areas posted as "No Swimming."
- Avoid swallowing water from rivers, lakes, streams, or stock ponds.
- Use earplugs, swim goggles, or masks if you tend to get ear or eye infections.
- Swim only in properly maintained pools, because chlorine rapidly kills the amoeba.
Arm your with nose clips. Set rules that there will be no head dunking or diving. Or consider taking a dip in a local pool instead.