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2013-08-15

Drought, high temps make waterways unsafe

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

The City of Bandera posted warning signs along the Medina River in City Park last week due to dangerous conditions. Low flow and high temperatures combine to make ideal conditions for the growth of bacteria and other unhealthful creatures.

Unless residents can find a place where the river is still flowing strongly, all locations should be considered suspect.

According to Bandera Country River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) General Manager Dave Mauk, there is more to be afraid of in the stagnant water than e coli.

"One dangerous organism that thrives in these conditions is a pathogenic amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri," said Mauk. "This organism enters a person through the nasal cavity, causing a condition known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The amoeba attacks the brain, resulting in death within days of infection.

"This organism thrives in stagnant waters, when the temperatures rise during the summer months. The danger of PAM infections has caused many state health departments, along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to issue warnings about swimming or wading in stagnant river water and ponds," Mauk said.

"To protect yourself, stay out of stagnant, nonmoving waters. When swimming, stay in parts of the river that still have good water flow. And if any warning signs about water quality are posted, please take heed.

Prevention is the best way to avoid any potential problems," said Mauk.

The amoeba causes an infection of the meninges and brain tissue. Once the infection starts it progresses rapidly, causing massive destruction of the brain and meningeal tissues, resulting in coma and death within 10 days from onset of symptoms.

This infection is almost always fatal.

According to CNN Health, a 12-year-old Arkansas girl who was infected with the rare brain-eating parasite this summer is showing remarkable improvement.

Kali Hardig is still in critical condition at an Arkansas hospital, but has grown alert to the point where she can gesture in response to questions, according to one of her doctors.

Of 128 known cases in the past half-century, just two patients have survived, according to the CDC.

"This infection is one of the most severe infections that we know of," Dr. Dirk Haselow of the Arkansas Department of Health told CNN affiliate WMC. "Ninety-nine percent of people who get it die."

Here are some tips from the CDC to help lower your risk of infection:

• Avoid swimming in fresh water when the water temperature is high and the water level is low.

• Hold your nose shut or use nose clips.

• Avoid stirring up the sediment while wading in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

• If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses (for example, by using a neti pot), use water that has been distilled or sterilized.