Nearly a quarter million Floridians are being warned to avoid washing their face with tap water after a man died from a brain-eating amoeba in February.
The advice, which applies to the nearly 200,000 residents of Charlotte County, comes after a county resident died on February 20. Officials believe the anonymous man caught the brain-eating infection from washing his face and rinsing his sinuses with infected tap water.
Infections from Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic single-celled amoeba, are very rare. The infection is known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and occurs when contaminated water enters the nose.
The disease has no known effective treatments, killing roughly 97% of those who contract it. Only four patients have survived the infection in the U.S. from 1962 to 2021.
The CDC told FOX 4 Fort Myers that this is the first case where a person in Florida was infected through tap water. It is also the first case in the U.S. to happen during a winter month.
Dr. Mobeen Rathore, a disease expert at the University of Florida, advised that all Charlotte County residents avoid exposing their nose to tap water during this time.
“Unless it’s cleared [by authorities] you should avoid any water going into the nose, at least for now,” Dr. Rathore told The Daily Mail. “In the shower, avoid getting anything into the nose.” If it is unavoidable, residents are instructed to boil the water first. Officials stressed that the infection cannot occur through drinking tap water.
“Infection with Naegleria fowleri is EXTREMELY RARE and can only happen when water contaminated with amoebae enters the body through the nose,” The Florida Department of Health tweeted on Friday. “You CANNOT be infected by drinking tap water.”