As warmer weather hits the area, the idea of cooling off in stagnant or slow-moving waters can turn deadly, and the Brazos River Authority is reminding swimmers about the PAM amoeba.
Primary amebic meningoencephalitis or PAM is a rare brain infection caused when swimmers come in contact with Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba found in freshwater and soil. The amoeba thrives in freshwater that is warmer than 80 degrees, and that is stagnant or slow-moving.
While the disease is rare, it is almost always fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only four people out of 145 surviving the infection. The disease is so rare that doctors encounter only 2.58 cases per year.
Part of what makes PAM so dangerous is the inability of doctors to pick up on the cause of which presents itself much like the flu and can also be mistaken for bacterial meningitis as early symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting and fever,
As the disease progresses, the symptoms can include loss of balance, seizures, stiff neck and hallucinations. In most cases, the patient dies within two weeks of the initial infection.
The PAM amoeba enters the body through the nose when people are diving, water skiing, diving, and jumping into freshwater. Swallowing or drinking the infected water will not infect someone with the amoeba, and it is not spread by person-to-person contact.
There have been only 10 cases of the PAM amoeba in Texas since 2000; however, there have been two deaths over the past two years, and both involved children.
Last year a 10-year-old Valley Mills Elementary student died from the disease after swimming in the Brazos River of the Labor Day weekend. Kyle Lewis, a 7-year-old Arlington resident, died of the illness in 2018.
Here are some observations and tips from the Texas Department of Health on keeping yourself safe from PAM.
The (TDSHS) reports that most PAM infections occur when temperatures are hot, and water levels are lower. As we head into what is expected to be an average hot Texas summer, be aware that safety precautions can be followed.
The only way to completely prevent contracting PAM is to not participate in water-related activities. If you do decide to participate, use nose clips, or hold your nose shut while jumping into the water. With the amoeba often found in soil, it’s best to avoid stirring up underwater sediment.
Texas Health and Human Services also recommend avoiding water activities in bodies of warm freshwater with low-water levels. Avoid stagnant or polluted water and take “No Swimming” signs seriously. Swimming pools and hot tubs that are properly cleaned, maintained and chlorinated are generally safe, as is salt water.
If water does get up your nose while swimming in warm freshwater, monitor yourself for flu-like symptoms. If you do start showing signs, going to a medical professional and informing them that you may have been exposed to the amoeba could save your life. There are specific tests that must be conducted to identify the PAM disease before treatment may begin. If medical professionals are not aware of the potential exposure to the amoeba, valuable time may be lost before a proper diagnosis is made, and life-saving treatment may begin.
By being aware and educating others, we can all stay safe this summer on the Brazos River basin.
For more information about PAM, contact your local county health department or the Texas Department of State Health Services at 512-776-7111. For toll-free, please dial 1-888-963-7111.