Be aware of amoebas while swimming in lakes, ponds Labor Day weekend

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 12-year-old South Florida boy died Monday from a brain eating parasite. His family thinks he got it while knee boarding in a water-filled ditch near his home.

Last month, the Florida Department of Health issued a warning to everyone about swimming in lakes or ponds across the state because of a risk of a rare brain-eating parasite.

Families should take note of that when enjoying their Labor Day weekend.

Four others died two summers ago of the same amoeba. Dr. Mobeen Rathore, of UF Health Jacksonville, said this alert from the Health Department is not to cause mass panic but awareness that it's out there.

"It's a rare infection. I think one should not be too worried about it, but it certainly can happen," Rathore said.

The amoeba lives in lakes and ponds, and the only way it enters people's bodies is through their nose.

Doctors say one preventative measure is using a nose plug if you plan on swimming in fresh water.

"This amoeba gets to the body through the nose, and from the nose it will go into the brain, and that's how the infection gets into the brain," Rathore said.

There's no need to avoid lakes and ponds if you take precautions.

Other ways to prevent it are to try to keep your head above water. If swimming, also avoid stirring up sediment at the bottom.

Although most cases occur in children, anyone can get the bacteria. The symptoms are similar to meningitis symptoms.

"It starts usually with a fever, a headache," Rathore said. "It's followed by a stiff neck."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are more cases in the South because amoeba thrive in warm fresh water like here in Florida.

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