Neti pots and pools – beware of brain eating amoebas…even during winter


If you ask a triathlete what their greatest risk is or what they fear the most, new athletes might answer drowning, while more experienced competitors might answer not being able to compete; and when pressed further as to what might cause that, they may point toward a fractured collar bone or another similar injury from a  bike accident. Few would answer death by brain eating amoeba although three people died last year from swimming in water inhabited by Naegleria fowleri, a “brain-eating” waterborne amoebic meningoencephalitis, which causes headache, stiffness, fever and nausea before leading to almost-certain death.

Many more got sick from ingesting or inspiring non lethal but severely painful bugs that can be found in pools, lakes and rivers. This has become such an important issue that the CDC ran a video contest to raise awareness of how to avoid these issues. Here is the winning submission:

But why as we enter the winter month of December are we talking about waterborne risks commonly found in warm waters. For two reasons, fist because triatletes move inside into pools during the winter months that are shared with youth swimmers that probably haven’t heard of these risks and even if they have, they don’t much care. Adults also assume that chlorine kills all of the urine and fecal borne bugs introduced by little swimmers wearing floaties. It doesn’t.

The second reason I bring this up is because winter brings winter colds and with more and more people resisting the use of antibiotics as a quick foolproof solution, many are turning to the use of nasal irrigators, some over the counter, others through the time tested use of nasal irrigates or nasal douches like the Neti pot. A Neti pot is used to pour warm saline water into one nostril drawing out any infection and contaminants as they are swept out the other nostril and into a sink. In most cases, this is a very safe and simple procedure, but just as noted above, there have been cases, where people have gotten and died from meningoencephalitis while using a Neti Pot.

To protect yourself during swimming, you can close off passages of entry including using goggles, not swallowing pool water, and by using ear and nose plugs. To do the same while obtaining the health benefits of using a nasal irrigator such as a Neti pot, use only distilled water, keep your pot clean and only use it for short periods of time. It doesn’t take any more effort and you can virtually eliminate all of the associated and completely preventable risks.

There are other pros and cons of using nasal irrigation as a course of action, many of which are identified in this WebMD article.

Hopefully, you’ll pass through this winter getting in great swim workouts and without getting ill; but if you should, remember these few simple tips.