Officials at Lake Mead National Recreation Area issued an ominous warning this week advising hikers to avoid activities that could expose them to a deadly “brain-eating amoeba” in the area’s popular hot springs.
The amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, has been found in several of the springs located below the Hoover Dam, according to a statement from the National Park Service. The microscopic organism can enter the brain through the nose and cause a devastating infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM.
“Naegleria fowleri has been found in hot springs,” the statement read. “This amoeba enters through the nose and can cause a deadly infection that causes a sudden and severe headache, fever, and vomiting. It is advised to avoid diving, splashing water, or submerging your head in hot spring water.”
The warning comes after health officials confirmed the amoeba was responsible for the death of a 2-year-old boy in July. The toddler contracted the infection after swimming in the Ash Springs near Alamo, Nevada, located about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.
PAM is almost always fatal, with the amoeba destroying brain tissue after traveling from the nose to the brain. The highest concentrations are found in water warmer than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some trails leading to the springs were closed over the summer but reopened October 1st. However, park officials cautioned that October weather can still be hot, putting swimmers at risk if they submerge their heads.
The springs covered by the warning include:
- Gold Strike Hot Spring – A strenuous 4.7 mile roundtrip hike from a trailhead off Interstate 11 on the Nevada side.
- Arizona Hot Spring – A difficult 5 mile roundtrip hike accessed from the Arizona side of the Colorado River.
- Lost Man Hot Spring – Also accessed from the Arizona side.
While infection is rare, officials urge anyone who develops sudden fever, headache, vomiting, or stiff neck after visiting the springs to seek immediate medical attention. Prompt treatment is critical for the infection that can quickly turn deadly.
For now, visitors are advised to check the weather forecast before hiking to the springs and take precautions like drinking plenty of water. Officials say avoiding any activity that could force contaminated water into the nose is the best way to stay safe.
Cover photo courtesy of: Mina Guli