Ways to lower your risk of contracting a brain-eating amoeba

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The state health department is warning Oklahomans about a brain-eating amoeba, but there are ways to keep the amoeba out of your body.

The health department says while we should all be aware of this potentially deadly bacteria, that does not mean we should stop enjoying our area lakes and waters.

A dip in area waters is not uncommon during the summertime in Oklahoma. For Flat Tide Surf at Lake Overholser, it's a way of life.

"We tell all of our clients if you fall of the board, no big deal, just get back on," Jason Smiley, the owner says.

Sounds simple, but many people are on alert after an Oklahoman died after contracting a brain-eating amoeba in Lake Murray.

"It is common, it's known to be in pretty much, expected to be in all our fresh bodies of water, lakes, rivers, pond streams," Laurence Burnsed, an Epidemiologist with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, says.

The amoeba itself is common, but the chances of contracting it are very, very low. According to the CDC, only 5-9 cases have been recorded since the 60's.

"If we accidentally inhale or force water into our nose, this amoeba that's in the water can then get into our system and up into the brain, causing problems," Burnsed says.

The amoeba also needs to harbor in shallow areas that are stagnant and warm.

"Look at the water and if it looks off color, like a green color, has mats of algae, or has a foul odor, consider swimming somewhere else, because maybe that's just not a good quality of water to swim," Burnsed says.

The Oklahoma health officials say there's nothing to be worried about in the water... as long as you practice safe swimming, you'll be alright.

"Try to avoid accidentally getting water in your nose, maybe nose plugs or holding your nose when you're diving or jumping into water," Burnsed said.

You can also skip the lake or river altogether.

"You would not expect to get it from a swimming pool, because if it's an adequately maintained swimming pool that is chlorinated, then that chlorine will destroy this amoeba," Burnsed says.

But this business owner says he'll take his chance.

"I'd be more worried about people not wearing sunscreen than this brain eating bacteria," Smiley says.

It is also possible to contract the amoeba from Neti pots.

A perfectly healthy person can also contract it. Health officials say be aware of the risk, not fearful.


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