Texas Warns of Brain-Eating Amoeba That Kills 97 Percent of Sufferers

A Texas river authority has issued a warning for people to be aware of brain-eating amoebas present in water as temperatures rise in the state.

The Brazos River Authority said earlier this month that rising temperatures increase the risk of Naegleria fowleri, a deadly microbe that can be present in freshwater, pools, and springs.

The microbe infects people by entering the body through the nose, typically while they are swimming or diving. It can then travel up the nose to the brain, where it destroys tissue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes infections as rare, with 33 infections occurring in the country between 2011 and 2020. However, infections have a high fatality rate of more than 97 percent, meaning almost all people who are infected by the amoeba die.

Lake dive
A stock photo shows someone diving into a body of water. A Texas river authority has issued a warning over deadly brain-eating amoebas that can be present in water. NiseriN/Getty

The Brazos River Authority said last week that people living in warm states such as Texas "should assume there is a risk when entering all warm freshwater bodies." However, it also stated that being aware of the microbe "does not mean you have to live in fear of visiting your favorite water spots, such as Possum Kingdom Lake or the Brazos River."

Citing sources such as the CDC and Texas Health and Human Services, the authority said that some steps people can take to avoid infection include wearing nose clips or holding one's nose; avoiding submerging one's head in water; avoid stirring up underwater sediment while swimming, since the microbe can be found in soil; avoiding water activities in warm freshwater where the water level is low or in stagnant water; and taking "No Swimming" signs seriously.

"This microscopic organism gets to the brain through deep inhalation up the nose. Once it reaches the brain, it begins to feast, which triggers an intense immune response that leads to dangerous swelling of the brain and massive headache and nausea." Bill Sullivan, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, told Newsweek.

"As the brain expands, it compromises communication with the spinal cord, which blocks signals that keep the lungs and heart working. The infection kills about 97 percent of those it infects in about five to seven days."

Sullivan said that although infections are rare there is "growing concern" that the amoeba may become more common in northern states due to climate change increasing the temperature of bodies of water. The amoeba is found in countries around the world.

"On rare occasion, cases have been linked to public fountains, waterparks, and tap water," he added. "While drinking tap water will not cause infection, its use in nasal-flushing neti pots has been linked to cases of brain-eating amoeba."

Texas has sweltered in triple-digit temperatures in recent days. The heatwave has led to a record surge in power demand across the state as residents switch on air conditioners to keep cool.