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Infectious Amoeba: Naegleria fowleri

The naturally occurring amoeba Naegleria fowleri can cause primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
Prevalence of PAM in Texas

On very rare occasions, a naturally occurring amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) can cause a fatal infection, primary amoebic meningoencephalitis of the brain and spinal cord. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, from 1983 through 2012 there were 28 deaths from Naegleria fowleri infections in Texas—an average of about one per year.

Infection can occur when water containing the amoeba is taken in through the nose while swimming or diving in freshwater, especially stagnant ponds, streams, or lakes in areas where the climate is warm, or in inadequately chlorinated water in swimming pools or splash pads. The amoeba may also enter the nose during nasal irrigation if the water has not been sterilized, distilled, or boiled.

Monitoring and Testing Water

The TCEQ and the Clean Rivers partners periodically monitor water bodies and assess overall water quality at more than 1,800 sites around the state. This monitoring can identify issues and support efforts to manage water quality long term.

Naegleria fowleria is not included in the suite of parameters tested because it takes weeks to grow and identify the amoeba and there is no established relationship between detection or concentration and the risk of infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and related public-health agencies caution that natural bodies of water, especially warm and stagnant water, may contain organisms that can cause illness ranging from mild to severe and even life threatening.

Find Out How You Can Reduce the Risk of Infection