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‘Brain-eating amoeba’ case reported in Hillsborough County

Naegleria fowleri can lead to an infection that destroys brain tissue

One person in Hillsborough County has been infected with a potentially lethal amoeba that can cause brain tissue damage, according to a Hillsborough County Health Department release on Friday.

The Naegleria fowleri is sometimes referred to as a “brain-eating amoeba.” The “microscopic single-celled living amoeba” is usually found in ponds, rivers, lakes and other warm freshwater environments. It can lead to primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a rare infection that can result in destruction of brain tissue and is often fatal.

The Health Department news release did not disclose the water body involved, the identity of the person infected or their condition.

Related: Rabid otters, flying fish, brain-eating amoebas: Here's how Florida can kill you

The infection occurs when the amoeba enters the nose through contaminated water and travels to the brain. Its peak season is July through August, when there are lower water levels and higher water temperatures over a prolonged time period. The amoeba is more common throughout the South.

Since 1962, there have been 37 reported cases in Florida. Health officials recommend avoiding swimming in warm freshwater and “thermally polluted” bodies of water, like that near power plants. These activities should especially be avoided when water levels are lower and temperatures are higher. As an extra precaution, swimmers should hold their noses shut or use nose clips when in warm freshwater environments and avoid disrupting sediment.


Symptoms include fever, nausea, headaches, vomiting, loss of balance, stiff neck, seizures and hallucinations. A physician should be contacted immediately if one experiences these symptoms, as the infection progresses quickly.

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