After my recent “gross” article about flesh-eating bacteria, I had no intention to post another such article soon. However, an announcement about a confirmed case of brain-eating amoeba infection, or Naegleria fowleri, changed my mind. Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic-sized single-cell amoeba that destroys the brain. Summer is here, and in the light of the recent infection by this parasite, taking note may be a good idea.
The brain-eating amoeba could affect people who swim, dive or participate in waterskiing or other water sports. Naegleria lives in rivers, warm fresh-water lakes and hot springs. Furthermore, infections are rare but usually fatal.
Brain-eating amoeba survivors
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says after 35 years of no Naegleria survivors, prompt treatment saved two children. In 2013, a 12-year old girl and an 8-year old boy survived because of early diagnosis. The girl recovered fully and could return to school. Sadly, although the boy recovered, he might have permanent brain damage. In the same way, a 16-year-old boy survived the brain-eating amoeba infection in 2016, and he recovered fully.
How does infection by brain-eating amoeba occur?
Note that the only way in which Naegleria can enter the body is through the nose. The amoeba cannot enter the body through swallowing or drinking water, or exposure of broken skin to contaminated water. Along with rivers, warm fresh-water lakes and hot springs, the parasite can grow in water heaters, pipes and water systems. However, such growth occurs rarely.
No one knows why the brain-eating amoeba infects some swimmers and not others. Millions of people participate in water activities each year. Nevertheless, only 34 infections occurred nationwide from 2009 through 2018. Comparatively, 34,000 people drowned between 2001 and 2010. Swimmers should assume that the risk exists and use nose clips or your finger to hold your nose shut. Keeping the head above water may help, but there are no scientifically based precautions at this time.
Symptoms of brain-eating amoeba infection
In the few cases in which infected people survived, prompt diagnosis and treatment were vital. Therefore, anyone who suffers severe frontal headaches after swimming should see a doctor immediately. Additionally, an infected person can develop a fever, nausea and vomiting. Without prompt medical care, the next stage of the infection causes a stiff neck and an altered mental status. Furthermore, seizures and hallucinations could follow, and ultimately, the person can go into a coma.
The Florida Department of Health says only 143 known cases of brain-eating amoeba infection have ever occurred nationwide. Of those, only four survived. However, new treatments and prompt diagnosis might increase chances of survival. In conclusion, don’t let this information spoil your fun this summer, but take care.