Brain-eating amoeba naturally thrives in nearby lakes - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Brain-eating amoeba naturally thrives in nearby lakes

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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

There is no word on how a rare brain eating amoeba got into the water supply system in Northwest Louisiana, but we have learned where this deadly parasite naturally thrives: in your nearest lake.

Stephen Raab says his family takes several trips to Smith Lake over the summer.

"It's a little surprising," Raab said, "Just to know it's in there, out where I'm swimming, my family is swimming."

Dr. Edward Khan, Director of Disease Control with the Jefferson County Health Department says what is called "free living amoeba" are more common in lakes during the summer months because they love warm water. Keeping water out of your nose while in the lake is the best way to avoid exposure.

"Rarely when someone is swimming in the lake, especially if they have a force of water through their nose and it gets into back of sinus, can get into the brain. The parasite gets into the brain. They can get meningitis or encephalitis," said Dr. Khan.

When a person is infected it is almost always fatal, but Dr. Khan says, fortunately, the brain eating disease is rare. He knows of two fatal cases in Alabama over the past 15 years.

"There's only been a few hundred cases in the history of medical literature reported," said Dr. Khan.

And for Stephen Raab, although he's now more aware of what's lurking in the water, he says he won't be canceling any future trips to the lake.

"When we're at the lake, there's hundreds of people in the water, don't hear of any local cases. No one is going to change their habit because of something rare, just not something we'd worry about," said Raab.

Here are some ways to help avoid being infected: When you're in the lake or a river swimming, hold your nose underwater and don't dive in. Also, be careful if you use devices to flush your sinuses, like the "Neti-pot". Be sure to boil the tap water that you use or use distilled water.

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