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Ask Karen Fresh Water Infection on Astini News

Q:  I am just expressing my concern over VA Dept. of Health not releasing the names of the bodies of water to which the amoeba victim in Henrico county was exposed. 

The explanation that the public should not be lead astray by thinking these possible known bodies of water are the only ones to be aware of is not a comfortable one nor a safe one for citizens, in my estimation.  The explanation of the amoeba's habitat has been included in many articles concerning this tragic incident and should continue to be made public.  

However, advancing the public's awareness and safety by releasing the bodies of water visited by the victim is also necessary in my estimation.  The name of the river in which the Florida victim swam has been released.  As a citizen, a parent, and a grandparent I feel that the public must be made aware of the possible water bodies visited by the young Henrico county boy.

Thank you for any assistance in this concern.

Lorell Jefferson

A:  Thanks for contacting WSLS 10.  I contacted the Virginia Department of Health to get a more in depth explanation but it appears the articles you have read have similar responses.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, Virginia Department of Health sends the below response, 

Dear Ms. Jefferson 

This is in reply to your recent email to VDH concerning  reports about a child dying from an amoeba infection after swimming.  In your email, you questioned Virginia Department of Health's (VDH) decision to not reveal the locations of the bodies of the water where the child had been swimming.  Thank you for contacting us for assistance.

The organism that caused this child's meningitis is Naegleria fowleri.  Naegleria is an amoeba that is commonly found in warm freshwater, and is essentially found in all freshwater bodies such as lakes and rivers, particularly during very hot weather.  Infections with Naegleria fowleri are very rare.  During the 10 years from 2001-2010, 32 infections were reported in the United States and prior to last week, the last case in Virginia was in 1969.

VDH has not named the bodies of water because releasing that information has the potential to be misleading, as it could imply that bodies of water not mentioned pose a lesser risk to the public, which is not necessarily the case.  This organism and others are found everywhere in bodies of fresh water; and it is, therefore, best to always assume a low level of risk when entering all warm freshwater. 

There are practical measures one can take to help prevent these types of water-related illnesses.  For example, during water-related activities, be mindful of naturally-occurring organisms that live in fresh bodies of water, like lakes, ponds and rivers, which in rare situations may lead to meningitis when water enters through the nose.  These organisms naturally exist everywhere in these environments and are active during hot summer months.  Holding the nose or wearing a nose clip while underwater is one good measure that may reduce risk.

Please contact Rebecca LePrell, Director of Environmental Epidemiology, by telephone at 804-864-8111 or by email at, if you have additional questions.


Dr. Laurie Forlano

Linkto VDH's Safely Enjoy Virginia's Natural Waters pamphlet.

Link to more healthy swimming tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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