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Brain eating amoebas are scary, but water has more common bugs

August 17, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • A tourist swims in a lagoon in Nicaragua. The Centers for Disease Control reports that swimmers are susceptible to infection by a slew of germs that can cause diarrhea, rashes and other ailments.
A tourist swims in a lagoon in Nicaragua. The Centers for Disease Control… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

The death of Courtney Nash -- the 16-year-old who succumbed to a deadly brain infection last week after going for a dip in a Floridariver -- marks the third case this summer of death after exposure to the waterborne amoeba Naegleria fowleri.  Earlier in the season, according to news reports, one person in Louisianaand another in Virginia also died from the "brain-eating" malady amoebic meningoencephalitis, which causes headache, stiffness, fever and nausea before leading to almost-certain death.

The cases are terrifying, but they're also rare.  A more immediate concern for most swimmers in the hottest months of the summer is getting diarrhea, a rash or other problems from a number of bugs that frequently lurk in swimming pools, rivers and lakes, and on beaches.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most commonly reported recreational water illness (RWI) is diarrhea, which can be caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli.  These can be introduced into the water through trace amounts of fecal matter that cling to people's bodies. 

The agency reports:

Swimmers share the water -- and the germs in it -- with every person who enters the pool. On average, people have about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms which, when rinsed off, can contaminate recreational water. In addition, when someone is ill with diarrhea, their stool can contain millions of germs. This means that just one person with diarrhea can easily contaminate the water in a large pool or water park.

The CDC answers questions about RWIs at this web page.  Tips to avoid infection are here and here.  The winning entry in a video contest about RWI is posted here.

Check out the related links to the left for additional coverage of RWIs from the Los Angeles Times.  

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