Barry Leddicoat

Tragedy highlights risk of contaminated warm waterholes

WITH summer well on the way, people are being urged to be cautious before taking the plunge in local waterholes.

With the increased temperatures comes an increased risk of the organism naegleria fowleri being found in untreated, warm water.

Following the death of one-year-old Cash Keough in north-western Queensland in April, his parents have been raising awareness of this amoeba which causes an infection in the brain.

Public Health Physician and Director for the Darling Downs Public Health Unit, Dr Penny Hutchinson, said there had been six cases in Queensland since 1971 with a 98% mortality rate.

While it is commonly found in the environment, Dr Hutchinson said infections were very rare due to the specific circumstances needed for infection.

The organism only causes infection when contaminated water gets pushed into the nose and the amoeba travels to the brain.

Drinking and washing in untreated water would not cause infection.

"Infection can occur when contaminated, unfresh, warm water is pushed up the nose, like when someone falls while water skiing on a dam," she said.

Do you put your head under water when swimming in dams and creeks?

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The organism can live in warm, untreated water including rivers, dams, creeks, rain water tanks and poorly-maintained, chlorinated swimming pools.

Dr Hutchinson said there we simple steps to avoiding infection. "You can treat your water with a UV filter or chlorination."

"It's important to never put your head under water in spas or untreated water," she said.

Dr Hutchinson said the most at risk were young children and those who flush their sinuses with water.

"Ensure young children play with treated water and only use sterile water to wash sinuses out," Dr Hutchinson said.

Recommendations by Queensland Health also included hoses being thoroughly flushed before play, emptying and cleaning wading pools out daily and teaching children not to squirt water up their nose.

Dr Hutchinson also said people should avoid diving or jumping into warm-water dams and creeks, and avoid water going up the nose as much as possible.

Symptoms typically develop within three to seven days of infection, and include high fever, severe and persistent headache, neck stiffness, confusion, hallucinations, sore throat, vomiting, taste and smell disturbances and seizures.

Dr Hutchinson said education sessions are being contemplated based on community need.



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