GREENSBORO, N.C. — You can get both from swimming and both are potentially dangerous, but here’s what you should know about brain-eating amoeba and flesh-eating bacteria. The two are both rare, but they are not the same. Make sure you know the difference because it could save your life.

BRAIN-EATING AMOEBA

WHAT IS IT?

Naegleria fowleri, is known as brain-eating amoeba and can be deadly. It’s a one-celled living organism that is commonly found in warm freshwater. It's not found in saltwater.

IT’S RARE

Infections are rare, with only 145 known cases in the U.S. from 1962 - 2019. North Carolina has had six known cases during that time period, according to state health officials. 

RELATED: Guilford County man dies after being infected with brain-eating amoeba from swimming in a NC lake

HOW DO YOU GET IT?

You can get it by swimming in freshwater when the water is warm or in the summer. You can’t get it by swallowing water but it can be deadly if you get water up your nose. You can get it by swimming, diving, water-skiing, or other water activities if the water goes up your nose.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms start with severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting then progress to a stiff neck, seizures, and coma. Brain-eating amoeba can cause severe illness up to nine days after exposure.

FACT

You can't be infected with brain-eating amoeba by drinking water.

TAKE PRECAUTIONS

Limit the amount of water going up your nose. 

  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips or keep your head above water when taking part in warm freshwater-related activities.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high-water temperature and low water levels.
  • Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

For more information about brain-eating amoeba, click here.

FLESH-EATING BACTERIA

WHAT IS IT?

Flesh-eating bacteria is a rare bacterial infection known as necrotizing fasciitis. It can spread quickly in the body and can be deadly. It thrives in warm water and can be found in both freshwater and saltwater.

IT’S RARE

Since 2010, about 700 to 1,200 cases occur each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About one-third of those cases result in death.

HOW DO YOU GET IT?

The bacterial infection enters the body through a break in the skin, including:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Burns
  • Insect bites
  • Puncture wounds (including from intravenous drug use)
  • Surgical wounds
  • You can also get it by eating contaminated shellfish

RELATED: Flesh-Eating Bacteria May Rise on Some East Coast Beaches: New Study

SYMPTOMS

According to Novant Health, the infection often spreads quickly. Early symptoms can include:

  • Severe pain, including pain beyond the area of the skin that is red or swollen
  • A red or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly
  • Fever
  • Later symptoms can include: ulcers, blisters, or black spots on the skin, changes in the color of the skin, oozing from the infected area, dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea and nausea.

HOW IS IT TREATED

Novant Health said it’s typically treated with antibiotics and immediate surgery and even, multiple surgeries as well.

RISK FACTORS

Most people who get it have other health problems that lower their body’s ability to fight infections.

Conditions that weaken the immune system include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver

RELATED: Certain diabetes drugs must warn of deadly flesh-eating infection, FDA says

TAKE PRECAUTIONS

You can take precautions to protect yourself. You can not get in the water. Dr. Sandra Carnahan with Novant Health Oceanside Family Medicine said, “If you wear a waterproof bandage before entering the water, you should be okay.”

When it comes to shellfish said, “You shouldn’t eat undercooked or raw seafood.”

Make sure you cook them before eating. Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw shellfish.