The occurrence of Naegleria fowleri in recreational waters in Arizona

Laura Y. Sifuentes, Brittany L. Choate, Charles P. Gerba, Kelly R. Bright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Naegleria fowleri is a free-living amoeba found in waters in warmer regions that causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a rare but almost universally fatal disease. The goal of this project was to assess the occurrence of N. fowleri and other thermophilic amoebae in 33 recreational surface waters across Arizona to determine if their presence could be correlated with seasonal or other environmental factors. First, 1-L grab samples were collected over two years and analyzed using polymerase chain reaction and amoebae viability. Seasonality was observed, with N. fowleri and thermophilic amoebae (20% and 30%, respectively) being detected more often in the winter and spring combined than in the summer and fall combined (7.9% and 9.5%, respectively). The spring and fall both had an average temperature of 18°C, yet had different occurrence data (18.2% versus 5.9% for N. fowleri, respectively; 27.3% versus 0% for viable amoebae, respectively). These results are in stark contrast to previous studies in which N. fowleri has been found almost exclusively during warmer months. Over the two-year study, N. fowleri was detected in six and thermophilic amoebae in eight of the 33 recreational water bodies. Five of these were lakes near Phoenix that tested positive for N. fowleri and thermophilic amoebae over multiple seasons. These lakes differed significantly (P ≤ 0.05) from the other 28 surface waters, with a lower average temperature in the spring, a higher temperature in the fall, a higher pH and turbidity in the summer, and a lower electro-conductivity in the spring. They also had lower Escherichia coli and heterotrophic bacteria levels during colder months. Future N. fowleri monitoring in Arizona should focus on these five lakes to further elucidate the factors that contribute to the low occurrence of this amoeba in the summer or which might explain why these lakes appear to be reservoirs for the organism. © 2014

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1322-1330
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Science and Health - Part A Toxic/Hazardous Substances and Environmental Engineering
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 19 2014


  • Naegleria fowleri
  • ecology
  • occurrence
  • seasonality
  • surface waters
  • thermophilic amoebae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering


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