Swimmers beware deadly parasite in lakes and rivers

Lakes and rivers may contain a deadly parasite that breeds in the summertime / Ashley Knight

Lakes and rivers are a popular place for those hoping for relief from the summertime heat. However, water-borne bacteria called amoeba could ruin your plans. It's a tiny parasite that breeds in warm water, and, if it enters your body, attacks the brain.

"And when the kids swim into the rivers and lakes, they stir up the bottom. We've just come through a drought and we're still low as far as rain, so water is low and stagnant," says Southwest Health District Environmental health Director Dewayne Tanner.

The amoeba enters through the nose and attacks the brain. Symptoms are flu-like and can come on rapidly.

"Fever, vomiting, nausea, hallucinations, seizures," says Tanner.

Gary Morfield is the water director with Water, Gas and Light. He says they check the water frequently for any bacteria.

"We check our micros at 100 sites per month. We have a total of 300 sample sites throughout the distribution, each site is tested once a quarter," says Morfield.

The bacteria thrives when water reaches 80 degrees. Morfield says our water here reaches about 72 degrees. And cases are rare--the Centers for Disease Control report 34 cases in the U.S. since 1989.

Though cases like these are rare, officials say amoeba can be more prevalent in lakes. The water is so still, there's nothing to wash the amoeba away. But if you do decide to take a dip, they say to take precaution.

"You can wear a nose clip, hold your nose if you're jumping in the water, try not to stir up the bottom too much," says Tanner.

If caught, it can be treated, but it must be detected early on. Officials with the Health Department say it may be safer to just stay in a well-chlorinated swimming pool.