Unfortunately, the ‘Negleria fowleri’, better known as the “brain-eating amoeba”, is in the news again. Sadly, the latest incident is a 6 years old boy who died of this devastating amoeba infection. This unicellular organism travels to the olfactory nerve (it is the olfactory sensory nervous system) in the Negleria fowleri brain, where it grows rapidly and begins to devour brain tissue. In 97% of cases, it is fatal. It is still a very rare disease but an important concern because the infection is always fatal.
Negleria fowleri is a unicellular organism that lives in freshwater and prefers warm water. It grows rapidly at a temperature of 42 degrees centigrade (~ 107 degrees Fahrenheit), but a temperature of about 25 degrees centigrade or more is sufficient for amoebae to breed. This is why most cases have been identified in Florida and Texas, and there are concerns that future climate change could help expand the scope of such amoebas. To avoid this amoeba attack in July, Florida residents were told to swim with nose clips and avoid direct contact with tap water. Now, Texas officials have tested water supply lines in eight cities following the death of a 6 years old boy. The research team has been investigating the discovery of this brain-eating amoeba in the water of the home of a 6 years old boy near Jackson Lake.
Negleria fowler swallowing is not harmful, but inhalation is fatal.
Since the 1970s, when Australian researchers gave this brain-eating amoeba a name, news of deaths due to Negleria fowleri has been published more frequently every summer. Negleria fowleri lives in the warm freshwater of states like Arizona, where it feeds on bacteria found in lakes and rivers. This is known as a “free-living amoeba” that does not need a mate. If a person accidentally swallows an amoeba, it is not harmful. However, if it gets inside the nasal cavity, it becomes fatal. This microscopic amoeba reaches the brain and travels through the nasal cavity to find any food source. Once it starts eating into the brain tissue, the body’s immune system sends white blood cells to fight, causing the brain to swell and create a deadly situation. Usually, the infected person dies within a week.
The symptoms are similar to meningitis, so the patient is more likely to be misdiagnosed and receive the wrong treatment.
Since the disease is similar to meningitis, doctors treat it as meningitis and it takes two to three days for the patient to be treated for meningitis, and then when it is realized that it is not working, it is too late because the amoeba eats the brain. In 2013, two babies survived the parasite attack because they were treated quickly for the breast cancer drug Miltofozin. A12 years old girl, although she returned to normal, an 8 years old boy suffered brain damage.
There are likely to be more incidents than records:
Experts estimate that 3 to 6 Americans die each year from Negleria fowler. These victims are usually young and male, especially those who bathe in warm lakes. It is known that there are more incidents than this. Since the disease is similar to meningitis, doctors often fail to diagnose the disease. In 2018, the CDC tried to answer this question by examining children’s autopsy data. They estimated that 16 children in the United States die from the annual Negleria fowler – twice the official figure.
“Most of the time we argue with the CDC, because the CDC always says it’s a rare disease, people don’t have to be scared,” Haggi said. But the bottom line is that it’s not uncommon. This amoeba is found in soil profiles all over the world and it is born naturally. ”
U.S. water is getting hotter by the day, and while this is good news for amoebae, it is also a cause of deadly fear for humans.
In particular, the infection of Negleria fowler spreads to the southern states during the summer. Amoebae prefer to live in warm places and thrive in temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit. But as the world warms, the water temperature also rises, so the presence of freshwater is relatively more noticeable, which helps the Negleria fouleri to spread more widely. This is a matter of global concern – in 2012, a Nigerian fowler died in Pakistan. Even in Costa Rica in 2020, two people died. There are many parts of America like Costa Rica that have never been so hot before. In southern states like Arizona, the average summer temperature ranges from 90 ° F to 120 F, which is ideal for Negleria fowleri. In states like New York, summer temperatures typically range from 60 Fahrenheit to 65 Fahrenheit but change.
Yoder said: “If water temperatures continue to rise in the northern states, the concern is that those who come into contact with water in these states may be at greater risk,”
This type of amoeba does not just live in lakes. In 2002, a woman in Arizona filled a Kiddie pool with contaminated hot water, inadvertently pushing her daughter to her death. This terrifying amoeba was then also identified in Louisiana waters. It killed at least two people. One of the victims was a four-year-old boy who had a runny nose while playing a slip-n-slide in his backyard. Another used tap water from his house.
Americans should assume that warm fresh water contains amoebae. He should be careful accordingly.
There is no standard test for identifying Negleria fowleri in water, so the CDC recommends that “water users should assume that Negleria fowleri is present in warm freshwater in the United States.” Yoder said the CDC is working with the local health department to get the message about safe swimming to everyone and is working with physicians to raise awareness about Negleria fowleri so that patients consider it when they show symptoms. Yodar advises people to avoid drowning while swimming in the lake and to wear nose plugs.
References: Insider, Science Alert.