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For Release:  July 31, 2012

Contact:         Leslea Bennett-Webb                         
                     Office of Communications
                     (405) 271-5601; (405)684-3920

Case of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis Reported

Health Officials Stress Caution When Swimming in Natural Bodies of Water

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced today that a Bryan County youngster has died after being hospitalized with PAM (Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis) symptoms following swimming and diving in the Red River last week.

PAM is an extremely rare and usually deadly disease caused by infection with a single-celled organism (ameba), Naegleria fowleri.  These disease-causing organisms are naturally present in most lakes, ponds, and rivers but multiply rapidly in very warm and stagnant water. Persons may be exposed to Naegleria fowleri ameba when they dive or submerge their head in contaminated water. The ameba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue.

“As the heat and drought conditions intensify in Oklahoma, the risk of certain waterborne illnesses also increases,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley.

Symptoms of PAM initially include: high fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting.  Later, symptoms may include stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, and coma.  PAM cannot be spread from person-to-person.  Most occurrences of PAM occur in the southern states. Since 1998, six deaths due to PAM have occurred among Oklahomans.

Health officials encourage Oklahomans to observe these water safety tips to avoid illness while swimming in lakes, rivers and other natural bodies of water:

  • Avoid water entering nose or mouth when swimming, jumping, diving, or dunking your head into bodies of fresh warm water.
  • Hold your nose or use nose plugs when jumping or diving into water.
  • Never swim in stagnant or polluted water.
  • Do not swim in areas posted as "No Swimming".
  • Avoid swallowing water from rivers, lakes, streams, or stock ponds.
  • Use earplugs, swim goggles, or masks if you tend to get ear or eye infections.
  • Swim only in properly maintained pools, because chlorine rapidly kills the ameba.

In addition, like last summer, blue-green algae continue to be present in some Oklahoma lakes. Blue-green algae can produce toxins that result in illness in humans and animals. Direct contact with water that has a blue-green algae bloom can result in a skin rash; eye, ear and throat irritation; asthma-like symptoms; and diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps. Individuals are advised to avoid swimming or other recreational water activities where mats of algae appear on the water.

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