An amoeba, formally called Naegleria fowleri, which can travel to the brain and kill its victim by destroying brain tissue is responsible for as many as 32 deaths from 2001 to 2010 according to the CDC.
30 of those people were infected when swimming in contaminated lakes, streams or other recreational waterways and 2 others were infected by water from a geothermal (naturally very hot) drinking water supply.
There is normally an increase in reported cases of naegleria fowleri this time of year, due to there being higher temperatures and lower water levels. The amoebas flourish in the heat — especially during the summer months in the South, thriving in warm waters where people swim. When temperatures are cooler, the amoeba will typically become dormant.
Who gets Naegleria fowleri?
Normally, there are between two and three attacks per year, with the highest year (before 2011) being 1980 with 8 reported cases.
Normally, young children and teenagers are the likely victims of the amoeba attacks, with median age of victim being 12 years and 2/3 of the victims being under 13. People with compromised immune systems may have a more difficult time fighting the amoeba as it begins to move through the body. It’s important to note that although young children are diagnosed with naegleria fowleri most often, the cause is more likely their willingness to put their heads under water — the amoeba does not discriminate and will attack adults just as quickly as children.
Initial symptoms consist of pain in the front and center of the head, very high temperature, upset stomach, digestive tract issues, and stiff and aching joints. In a day or two, overall health declines and symptoms grow to include something similar to dementia, including indecision and uncertainty, lack of recognition of familiar people and places, loss of balance and stability, and convulsions.
Naegleria fowleri symptoms
The CDC recommends treatment with Amphotericin B for for primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. But the treatment has shown very little evidence of altering the outcome. Alternate treatment of miconazole, sulfadiazine, and tetracycline sometimes has improved results if the condition is treated early.
Most recent deaths in 2011 of two people in Louisiana believed to have contracted the amoeba through use of a Neti Pot to relieve congested sinus. The pots had tap water in them and are used to clear blocked sinuses.
The amoeba typically don’t survive the water treatment process, and it is very rare for the amoeba to attack in this way. Typically they enter the body through the nose while swimming in fresh water streams, ponds or other waterways.
How do Naegleria fowleri attack?
The amoeba cannot enter the body by drinking water, it usually enters through the nasal canal. Surprisingly the amoeba don’t seek humans to attack, they are “forced” to attack humans after being ingested through the nose.
Death rate from Naegleria fowleri
The incidence of attack is very small, but the agonizing symptoms and fast progression of this disease make it a one of the most feared diseases.
After progressing through the initial and latter symptoms, the amoeba continues to ravage its victim’s brain while the body fights against the infection. The battle is centered in the frontal lobes of the brain. The infection affects people’s behavior and changes how they react to loved ones, their emotions and their ability to reason. In some cases pressure within the skull is so intense, the brain simply stops working.
Death occurs in 95% of cases, anywhere from 3 to 10 days after initial symptoms are observed.