The Florida Department of Health on Thursday warned swimmers to be cautious in freshwater lakes after an 11-year-old Sanford boy vacationing in Costa Rica contracted and later died from a rare infection caused by an amoeba.
Jordan Smelski died Wednesday at Florida Hospital Orlando, a spokeswoman for the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner's Office said. He had been on a trip with his family to the Central American nation, she said.
The boy died after being exposed to an amoeba that causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis. The amoeba, a microscopic parasite called naegleria fowleri, goes up the nose to the brain and then into the spinal cord. Most infections occur during swimming, diving, water skiing and wake boarding.
Perhaps because children engage in those activities more often than adults, they are more likely to become infected, said Dain Weister, a state health department spokesman.
One of the worst years for the infection in Central Florida was 2007, when three Central Florida boys died of it.
The danger is most acute during prolonged hot weather when the water temperature rises and water levels fall, according to the Department of Health. The amoeba lives in lakes, rivers, hot springs worldwide, Weister said.
It also can live in poorly chlorinated or nonchlorinated swimming pools.
Symptoms, which begin about five days after exposure, include headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, a stiff neck, seizures, vertigo and hallucinations. Contact a doctor immediately if you experience any of these after swimming in warm fresh water, officials said.
The infection is almost always fatal but cannot be passed from person to person, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials advise people to avoid activities in fresh water or, at minimum, keep their heads out of the water and hold their noses closed or use nose clips.
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