Amoebic meningitis warning for recreational water users

3 January 2017

As the weather warms up, Western Australians are being reminded to ensure they take precautions to protect themselves and their families from a potentially fatal infection.

Kids swimming in pool

Amoebic meningitis is a rare but fatal infection caused by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba which lives in fresh water and damp soil. When water containing active amoebae enters the nose, the amoebae travel to the brain causing inflammation and destruction of brain tissue. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is naturally occurring in the environment and cannot be eradicated.

People need to be aware of the risk and ensure water that they or their children play in is properly treated and maintained.

As amoebae thrive in water temperatures between 28˚C and 40˚C, it should be assumed that any warm fresh water potentially contains the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. The infection can affect people at any age; however children and young adults are usually more susceptible to the infection due to their recreational water use and activities.

As the risk of contracting the infection is always real, precautions must always be taken. Pool and spa owners should closely monitor and check chlorine levels are within a safe range.

Other water sources that can contain the amoeba are:

  • wading pools
  • dams and lakes
  • garden hoses and sprinklers
  • natural waterways and rivers.

The risk of amoebic meningitis can be reduced by following these simple precautions:

  • never allow water to go up your nose or a child's nose and do not sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering or washing your face
  • run all water from any hose or sprinkler for a few minutes until cool water flows through the hose before letting any child play with water from a hose or sprinkler
  • always supervise children playing with hoses or sprinklers and teach them not to squirt water up their noses
  • if the water in a hose or sprinkler remains warm even after flushing for a few minutes, do not let children play with it
  • disinfect your swimming pool water with chlorine – chlorine is the most effective way to continually disinfect water as it kills all stages of the amoeba
  • keep wading pools clean by emptying, scrubbing and allowing them to dry in the sun after each use
  • never jump or dive into water – walk or lower yourself in
  • swim in and play with safe (disinfected) water only
  • stay out of dirty pools, waterholes, dams, swimming pools or spas
  • swim in sea water or properly chlorinated pools rather than fresh water
  • do not dig or stir up sediment
  • let bath and shower taps run for a few minutes to flush out the pipes
  • do not use tap water for nasal irrigation unless it has been further treated.

Learn more about amoebic meningitis.