WA Health Department scientist Richard Theobald warns swimmers of brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri
The discovery of a brain-eating amoeba at a popular local swimming spot has prompted authorities to warn about the risks of cooling off in lakes, ponds and backyard wading pools.
An amoeba named Naegleria fowleri was detected at the Brunswick Pool last week during a routine check by the Shire of Harvey.
Signs have been placed discouraging people from swimming in the pool.
Health Department managing scientist Richard Theobald said the free-living amoeba could be found naturally in bodies of fresh water and poorly chlorinated swimming pools and thrived in warmed water.
He warned people against swimming in at-risk water locations due to the risk of contracting a rare, but fatal, infection known as amoebic meningitis.
“The amoeba is happy in water where the temperature is lovely for you to swim, around 28 to 30 degrees celsius,” he said.
“We advise as many people as possible, particularly during the summer months, to avoid swimming in natural bodies of freshwater.”
Mr Theobald said along with natural water bodies, garden hoses and poorly chlorinated swimming pools posed a risk of infection, particularly children’s inflatable wading pools.
“If there is nice warm water in a pool with no chlorine but a little bit of dirt, you start to run the risk of amoeba, so that water should be emptied and then refilled regularly,” he said.
The amoeba travels to the brain and does what amoeba love to do: multiply and consume
“Infection is very rare (but) the death rate is 99 per cent.”
He said swimmers could be infected when water was thrust up their nose, with children and young people who jump feet first into water more at risk.
“When infected, the amoeba travels to the brain and does what amoeba love to do: multiply and consume,” he said.
Mr Theobald said there had been only three known infections in the State since the 1980s but avoiding potential risk was still advised.
Harvey Shire president Michelle Campbell said the council’s environmental health team would continue to monitor the Brunswick Pool and update the community as soon as they received clear sample results.
“Our priority is community safety, so we have already installed signage at the site to discourage visitors from swimming,” she said.
For more information about amoebic meningitis and precautionary measures, visit healthywa.wa.gov.au.
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