Naegleria fowleri is the scientific name of the Brain-eating amoeba. You must’ve heard about this brain-eating amoeba, but do you know how dangerous it is? Commonly known as brain-eating amoeba, is a tiny, single-celled organism that’s found in warm freshwater and soil. The amoeba doesn’t eat the brain but can cause serious brain damage and swelling that often leads to death. The condition is called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
The infection was first reported in the United States in 1937. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 381 cases were reported until 2018 in the United States, India and Thailand, but recently a 50-year-old man succumbed to this infection in South Korea. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) confirmed that a Korean national who returned from Thailand after 4 months, was infected by Naegleria fowleri.
How does this infection spread?
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, canals and ponds throughout the world. The amoeba enters the human body by inhalation and then travels to the brain and kills the brain tissues causing the infected individual to die.
What are the symptoms?
The early symptoms are similar to those of meningitis and can include: fever, severe headache, nausea or vomiting. Later, the infection progresses rapidly after which the later symptoms kick in causing a stiff neck, light sensitivity, confusion, loss of balance, hallucinations and seizures. The incubation period for ‘brain-eating amoeba’ is usually from two to three days and up to 15 days at most.
Does this infection spread from person to person?
No, the infection is not spread from person to person, but it is reported that most of the cases spread through swimming. In South Korea following safety measures, Jee Young-mee, who heads the KDCA, said via a press release, “To prevent the infection of Naegleria fowleri, we recommend avoiding swimming and leisure-related activities and using clean water when travelling to areas where cases have been reported.”
Is there a cure?
The survivors are few and the victims are more. This infection has no cure but if diagnosed early, can be treated. The treatment is the antifungal amphotericin B. Some survivors in North America were treated with a combination of drugs that included amphotericin B, rifampin, fluconazole and a drug called miltefosine.
The outlook for someone who is infected with Naegleria fowleri is very poor. Even with treatment, most people succumb to this infection. A coma followed by death usually happens in a week or 10 days after symptoms and signs begin.
What can we do?
Lately, various infections and diseases have received the limelight since the advent of the pandemic. This does not mean these infections are new they have been around for a while but have just started getting recognition. One would wonder if doing anything involves a risk, honestly yes! But, that shouldn’t stop one from being optimistic. Studies are being conducted and there will be a way out soon.
But it’s important to remember how rare this infection is. You can do your part in preventing it by using only distilled or sterilized water to rinse your nasal passages and by avoiding swimming in water bodies you know or have suspected to be infected, especially in hot weather.