Freshwater amoeba a potential killer

Take care: Western NSW Local Health District's Ingo Steppat is warning of risks.

Take care: Western NSW Local Health District's Ingo Steppat is warning of risks.

Health authorities are alerting western NSW families of a freshwater amoeba that although rare, can become a potential killer.

Tanks, dams and bore water supplies and water left wading pools can harbour the organism Naegleria fowleri, particularly in extreme heat, Western NSW Local Health District (LHD) advises.

If contaminated water enters the body through the nose, the amoeba can enter the brain and infect and destroy brain tissue, called meningoencephalitis.

Children and young adults appear to be more susceptible, the LHD reports.

Infections do not occur as a result of drinking water contaminated with Naegleria fowleri.

LHD environmental health services coordinator Ingo Steppat said people often were not aware of the risk because there were not a lot of cases.

“... nonetheless it’s still very important to be aware of it,” he said.

The advice is of particular importance in summer – the organism grows best in water of more than 25 degrees – and in regional areas relying on untreated water.

“A lot of the properties in our region have either dams on them or they have water that comes from the river on a river scheme, which is raw water untreated and these are the ones that can possibly be carrying the amoeba,” Mr Steppat said. “If you have a spa or a pool and and you’ve got water in it, it pays to make sure the chlorination is maintained, because that’s one of the ways we can actually control it.”

He warned chlorine in water would dissipate after sitting in the sun for a while, and said small wading pools should also be emptied and dried out between uses.