14 February 2024

Public urged to avoid 'rare infection' from untreated water this summer

| Claire Sams
Start the conversation
A group of young people playing in a river

Amoebic meningoencephalitis is potentially fatal, but Southern NSW Local Health District says there are simple steps you can take for protection. Photo: monkeybusiness/Envato.

As people head out to swim in the warm weather, NSW Health is urging them to protect themselves from a rare but potentially fatal brain infection.

Amoebic meningoencephalitis is an extremely rare brain infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, which is an amoeba (a microscopic single-celled organism) that lives in warm, fresh water and soil, according to NSW Health.

Naegleria fowleri is the only species of Naegleria that infects humans and, while infections are very rare, they can be fatal.

Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) Public Health Director Alison Nikitis said people could avoid primary amoebic meningoencephalitis by taking some easy precautions.

“Every summer we remind communities that warm conditions that increase water temperatures mean any unchlorinated water supply that seasonally exceeds 30°C or continually exceeds 25°C may be a risk,” she said.

“Amoebic meningitis can occur if untreated water goes up someone’s nose, so people should be careful when they are around unchlorinated water.”

“Children and young people appear to be more susceptible than adults to this rare infection.”

READ ALSO Griffith school with worst staff shortage in NSW to advertise for principal for a third time

The best way to avoid infection by Naegleria fowleri is:

  • Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm fresh water or thermal pools
  • Keep your head above water in spas, thermal pools and warm fresh water bodies
  • Ensure swimming pools and spas are adequately chlorinated and well maintained
  • Empty and clean small collapsible wading pools and let them dry in the sun after each use
  • Flush warm water from hoses before allowing children to play with hoses or sprinklers.

If you are using unchlorinated water, SNSWLHD recommends:

  • Don’t allow water to go up your nose when bathing, showering or washing your face
  • Supervise children playing with hoses or sprinklers and teach them not to squirt water up their nose.

Initial symptoms of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis start one to nine days after infection.

These can include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting, while later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.

Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

READ ALSO Level crossing upgrade behind schedule but Labor promises not to repeat ‘mistakes’ of Nationals

Ms Nikitis said it was key that people be on the watch for water sources that are unclean.

“The amoebas that cause primary amoebic meningoencephalitis live in warm, fresh water and soil, but the amoebas cannot survive in water that is clean, cool and adequately chlorinated,” she said.

“At particular risk are people in rural areas who have their own tank, dam or bore water supply, such as those living on farms, and people with poorly maintained swimming pools.

“For instance, shallow wading pools are particularly at risk if they have been left in the sun for a long time.

“Other places that can create an environment for the amoebas include lakes, rivers, dams, bores, tanks, garden hoses, natural hot springs, and spa and swimming pools that are poorly maintained.

Further information about amoebic meningitis can be found via NSW Health’s website.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.