Natural disasters such as hurricanes leave behind warm water that can be riddled with diseases and infections for people left to deal with the aftermath of the storm.
One of these infections could be brain-eating amoebas that are known to thrive in warm pools in the southeastern parts of the United States.
The crippling organisms are rare, but they enter through the nasal passages and into the brain.
Only four people in the United States have survived this infection and there have already been four cases this year.
Experts say three documented cases in Louisiana could have been caused by Hurricane Katrina, and there is an increased risk for people in Florida after Hurricane Irma.
What is a brain-eating amoeba?
Naegleria fowleri, known as brain-eating amoeba, is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers and hot springs.
This living organism infects people when water containing it enters the body through the nose.
It will then crawl up into the the brain and start attacking the tissue, which will create an inflammatory response by the body.
Someone can get infected when they swim or dive into warm freshwater that has the amoeba living in it.
Sometimes, an infection can occur in contaminated tap water if an amoeba is able to enter into the pipe system.
It can then invade the nasal passages if someone washes their face or submerges their head into the contaminated tap water.
There is no danger for someone who drinks or eats food that has been touched by contaminated water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What are the symptoms of having a brain-eating amoeba?
The amoeba causes the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is a brain infection that creates destruction of the tissue.
At the beginning, PAM may appear to be bacteria meningitis because it shows similar initial symptoms.
These symptoms include nausea, vomiting and headaches, and will start around five days after infection.
The disease then progresses to symptoms of confusion, stiffness in the neck, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.
After symptoms begin, the disease moves rapidly and kills the person within five days, on average.
There have been only four known people with this disease out of 143 cases in the United States to have survived, according to the CDC.
How prominent is it in the United States?
Brain-eating amoeba infections are incredibly rare across the world.
There have been 40 known cases in the United States from 2006 to 2016.
Of those 40 cases, 36 of those people were infected by the amoeba from recreational water such as rivers and lakes.
Four people were infected from contaminated tap water that they used on their face to allow the amoeba to go up their nose.
This year, there has already been four cases of people getting infected and one of them occurred in Florida.
Three cases occurred after 2005 in areas were Hurricane Katrina caused damage.
One Mississippi boy got infected and died in 2013 after getting the brain-eating amoeba while playing on a water slide.
He lived in St. Parish, Mississippi, which was one area that was largely damaged during the hurricane.
‘One of the concerns is that it was such a drastic population drop after Katrina and the water aged…just by sitting in the pipes and also a drop in lower demand,’ said Jake Causey, chief engineer for Mississippi’s health and hospitals, to CNN.
‘The more quickly it is used up (the water), the more the water system is able to process a good chlorine system.’
An amoeba is able to survive in pipes if the climate is warm enough.
Can this impact Florida after Hurricane Irma?
Hurricanes bring large amounts of water that are left stagnant long after the storm finishes.
In areas such as Florida, the warm weather invites bacteria such as naegleria fowleri to live in these pools of water.
Also, hurricanes can damage water systems which can allow for these amoeba to contaminate the tap water that people might think is safe.
Amoeba can live a long time in these areas as long as it is warm enough for the them to thrive.
Venice, Florida, had to shut off its water supply this week due to damage to the main pipe lines.
Once the break is repaired, the city will restore water but officials say residents will need to boil their tap water for 48 hours to get rid of any bacteria.
Situations like this one are when amoeba can invade the pipes and contaminate tap water.
Since it invades through the nasal passages, experts recommend people to wear nose plugs when in warm freshwater and to take proper precaution with tap water that could be contaminated.