Infection by the Brain-Eating Amoeba
Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as the brain-eating amoeba, can often prove fatal even with treatment. It often enters through polluted water that enters via the nose; however, it may also enter by inhalation or swallowing contaminated soil. It thrives in warm freshwater sources like lakes, rivers and hot springs; in poorly maintained pools; as well as industrial plant warm discharge.
Over the past 60 years, 154 cases of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) have been documented in the United States; all but four people involved have succumbed. Its rare nature often makes people forget about its severity, but we should not disregard its impact.
PAM amoebas grow most quickly in warm water environments with high temperatures and low water levels, such as those found in southern states. But as climate change warms the earth further, more infections could spread to northern locations as well.
Infections arise when amoeba travel through the nasal cavity to reach the brain and begin eating away at its tissues, leading to potentially lethal infections. So far, four cases of PAM infections have been recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; another case may still be occurring at this time.
UCSF doctors who were treating this patient were shocked at the unexpected result. While brain masses can be caused by many different things – cancer and bacterial abscesses among them – when biopsies revealed amoeba as the source, optimism increased significantly for recovery.
An experimental amoeba-killing medication has shown promise for improving patient survival rates. While other amoebic diseases treatments aim to target membranes directly, this new medicine directly attacks amoeba cells – so far unavailable on the market but could prove invaluable if approved and available soon enough.
Prevention of brain-eating amoebas infection is easier by using only distilled or sterilized water to rinse your nasal passages – particularly during summer when risk increases significantly.
Amoeba cannot spread from person to person; rather, it is contracted when water containing amoeba enters one’s nose and travels up into their brain, thus rendering the disease so dangerous and making knowing its prevalence and prevention essential. The best way to protect ourselves against infection is to stay out of contaminated waters – be that swimming, using diving boards or wearing facemasks when bathing in lakes, rivers and hot springs. Filtered or disinfected water is also an ideal choice when drinking for best protection from this potentially fatal disease. As COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease off it is time to focus on new measures of defense against such infection as early as now!