24 November 2023

Hot weather triggers amoebic meningitis warning

WA Health is reminding Western Australians about the risk of amoebic meningitis – a rare but deadly infection linked to warm, fresh water sources.

Summer is well and truly upon us already with a severe heatwave warning issued in the Perth metropolitan and surrounding areas this week, so Western Australians need to remain vigilant to health risks that the hot weather can bring.

Amoebic meningitis is caused by a type of organism called Naegleria fowleri amoeba which, if forced up the nose in warm fresh water, may cause inflammation and destruction of brain tissue. Even with medical treatment, this illness is fatal, so prevention is vital.

WA Health’s Managing Scientist – Water, Mr Richard Theobald, said this type or organism could grow in freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, and farm dams, but also in backyard garden hoses, spas, and in swimming and wading pools, in temperatures above 28˚C.

“Western Australians should assume that any water in hot weather could contain this infection and take precautions,” Mr Theobald said.

“However, drinking fresh water directly from the tap is safe as it is chlorinated and tested.

“Amoebic meningitis can affect people of any age but it’s children and young adults who are usually more susceptible to the infection due to their increased recreational water use and engagement in activities that may force water up the nose.

“Fortunately, there has not been a case of amoebic meningitis in Western Australia since the 1980s, however, it’s important to remain vigilant and not be complacent.”

Precautions to take to keep you and your family safe

  • Run sprinklers and hoses until cool water flows, before playing in water.
  • Don’t squirt water up noses.
  • Prevent water going up your nose –walk or lower yourself into water, don’t dive or jump.
  • Swim in the ocean or chlorinated pools, rather than fresh water.
  • Closely monitor and check (external site) that pool and spa chlorine levels are in a safe range.
  • Disinfect swimming pool and spa water with chlorine regularly.
  • Clean wading pools and dry them in the sun after each use.
  • Flush out pipes before showering and bathing.
  • Don’t use tap water to rinse out nasal passages, use sterile, distilled water or saline.
  • Don’t swim in dirty water including dams, rivers, or lakes.
  • Don’t dig or stir up sediment in fresh water sources.
  • Avoid putting your head under water when swimming in fresh water sources.

For further information about amoebic meningitis, visit Healthy WA (external site).

Heatwave alerts will be issued via Emergency WA (external site) ABC Radio and other broadcasters. For tips on preparing for heatwaves, visit HealthyWA (external site).


WA Health Media
T: (08) 9222 4333
E: media@health.wa.gov.au