Maybe you think you’re too cool to wear nose plugs when swimming or rocketing down water slides at the water park, despite the fact that they prevent water from shooting up into your nasal passages. But there’s one very, very good reason to invest in a pair or at least plug your nose if you’re visiting a water park with fresh water: Brain-eating amoebas can get inside and that is not a good thing.
“How can this be?” you’re probably muttering while imagining the horrific consequences of the aforementioned parasite. It’s a rare but very deadly occurrence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yes, it’s horrifying: A 12-year-old girl in Arkansas is battling for her life after being infected by the Naegleria fowleri, likely at the Willow Springs water park, reports CNN.
The amoeba enters the body through the nose and makes its way to the brain to feed, and is usually the result of swimming in warm freshwater. It can’t get into your brain by drinking it, just by sniffing fresh water. It’s also almost always deadly.
It’s unclear whether the water park the little girl attended in Arkansas is where the amoeba came from, but the department of health says that’s the most likely scenario. Another report of that parasite, primary amebic meningoencephalitis, was filed in 2010 and named the same location.
“Based on the occurrence of two cases of this rare infection in association with the same body of water and the unique features of the park, the ADH has asked the owner of [the water park] to voluntarily close the water park to ensure the health and safety of the public,” a news release said.
“This infection is one of the most severe infections that we know of. Ninety-nine percent of people who get it die,” Dr. Dirk Haselow with the Arkansas Department of Health told a CNN affiliate.
Symptoms like headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck can show up anywhere between one and seven days after the infection occurs, says the CDC.
“Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations,” the CDC notes. “After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.”
These terrifying creatures are also rumored to be the downfall of the River Country freshwater theme park at Disney World, which mysteriously shut down in Novemberr 2001, but that’s never been confirmed.
While there are only 32 reported cases of brain-eating amoebas between 2001 an 2010, the CDC is on board with the nose plugs idea, especially in the Southeast where most of the cases stem from. It also recommends skipping that dip in fresh water when it’s hot out or the water level is low, only using distilled or sterilized water in your neti pot, and avoid stirring up sediment in shallow areas. That being said, the water park might consider installing concrete at the bottom of its pools instead of earthy, sandy floors so the amoebas have nowhere to live while they await their next victims.