KAWARTHA LAKES-Recently I was researching bacteria in warm, freshwater lakes and came across some information on brain-eating amoebas.
Brain-eating amoebas sound like something right out of a science fiction novel, but in fact they do exist. Called Naegleria fowleri, this freshwater amoeba is found around the world, but in North America, is mainly found in the southern United States and points south of there according to the health unit. Although some scientists are concerned that climate change could be pushing the bacteria further north.
“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria fowleri infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose (people cannot get it from drinking water).” says Bernie Mayer, Manager of Health Protection with the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit. (HKPR) “Typically, this occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue. Naegleria fowleri can be fatal.”
In August 2020 a 13-year-old boy died after contracting the bacteria while swimming at a campground in Florida according to CBS News.
While brain-eating amoebas are not a concern in Ontario, Mayer says swimmers do need to be aware of other organisms found in our lakes, rivers and ponds that can put a damper on summer fun especially with a heatwave increasing water temperatures.
- E.coli in the water from bird feces and other contaminants can lead to diarrhea, ear/nose/throat infections and other problems. Before swimming in local lakes, you should check that the water is safe for swimming by watching for signs on the beach of checking out the Health Unit’s latest Beach Water test results.
- Swimmer’s itch can also be an issue. It’s a skin rash that you can get while swimming and it causes itching and redness. Swimmer’s itch is usually caused by a parasite called Shistosomes, which commonly affects birds, semi-aquatic mammals and snails. This Health Unit web page can give you more details about Swimmer’s itch and what to do to avoid it.
- Blue-Green Algae (also known as cyanobacteria) are primitive microscopic organisms that occur naturally in lakes, bays, ponds and inlets. Normally, the algae are barely visible, but in warm weather when conditions are right, the algae can rapidly grow to form a large mass (or bloom). Some blue-green algae can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, so it is imperative that if you spot blue-green algae in the water, you do no not swim or use the water for drinking, cooking, rinsing foods, washing dishes or other purposes. Most algae blooms are short-lived and will break down in a few days. Here is a link to the Health Unit’s Blue Green Algae information page for more information.
“Bottom line, enjoy your swim and a day at the beach. But be aware of potential issues that can cause waves for all the wrong reasons.” stated Mayer.