Amoebas and Other Lake-Water Nasties - Is Your Pet At Risk?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: July 31, 2015
Published: September 21, 2007
Share this:

Later this morning, I’m headed back to Orlando to compete in my first ever triathlon. Granted, I’m only handling the swim portion (a relay) at this point (I only just started training in July), but I have plenty of reasons to be scared silly. The first is obvious: a one-mile swim for a newbie racer is bound to make me last in the pack—humility hasn’t always been my strongest point. But the second is even more challenging: amoebas!

Yes, it’s true. Killer amoebas have been found in Central Florida lakes in record numbers this year. Three children have already succumbed to this meningoencephalitic infection in the past months.

As a result, the twelve-and-under division of our race (the Walt Disney Triathlon at Camp Wilderness) has been turned into a duathlon (which is a run-bike-run instead of a swim-bike-run). And the adults are dropping out of the swim in fear of this dreaded Naegleria fowleri amoeba. 

Of course, this vet has to assume the worst. And knowing what meningoencephalitis looks like in a hospital setting doesn’t help. After all, I certainly don’t want my family to have to decide whether I’d be better off with an experimental hemo-hypothermia treatment over an induced coma. No thanks. (Especially when we’re told by the CDC that everyone dies from this once they start showing beyond-flu symptoms.)

So I think I’m cutting and running—so to speak. I’ve decided to do the 10K at the end instead of the swim (just to prove I’m no wimp when my boyfriend insists on doing all three in spite of the dire warnings).

Do you blame me?

Because I want to make this post somewhat veterinary, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to insist that dogs may be even more at risk than humans. Yet no one’s canceling the pier-diving competitions (dogs do this) in the vicinity. Moreover, no-one’s requiring them to wear nose-plugs—that’s for sure.

Problem with vet medicine is that it takes a serious cluster to prove a point. Whereas people (especially children) get worked up so carefully (by a team of infectious neurologists, usually) that evasive amoeboid infectious organism actually manage to get identified. No one says—wait, I have to check my bank account first.

Now, I’m not faulting pet owners for this (I’d have to beg for credit, too). I just want to put things in perspective.

Now here’s where I ask you to remember the pet food recall. How long did it take to get a few cases translated into possible toxin exposure, which then had to pass through the Menu Foods lab animals and sicken a sizable percentage before managing to convince anyone of this emergency’s authenticity? About six weeks.

So in an abundance of caution, I want to urge everyone near Central Florida lakes to keep their dogs cool in the pool—not in the lakes or ponds. Consider the possibility that our pets may be even more susceptible to Naegleria than we are. They certainly take in a whole lot more of this water when they swim than we do.

In the meantime, I’m gonna keep nice and safe lakeside and pray my boyfriend doesn’t end up at Jackson memorial in the neuro ward next week. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Image: Amy / Flickr

Last reviewed on July 31, 2015