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Brain Eating Amoeba

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As the Texas drought continues, lakes, streams and ponds concentrate pathogens. Rare, fatal amoeba infections are on the rise in these conditions.


What is Brain-Eating Amoeba?


Naegleria fowleri is the species commonly referred to as Brain-Eating Amoeba. Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled organism that loves warm freshwater, such as the lakes and ponds. Brain-Eating Amoeba is found worldwide.


The often-fatal illness caused by Brain-Eating Amoeba is “Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis” (PAM).


Brain-Eating Amoeba infects people when contaminated water travels up the nose. This usually occurs as people take part in freshwater recreational activities. After an amoeba enters the body, through the nose, it travels to the brain where it can cause Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). PAM destroys brain tissue and can cause swelling and death.


Infections usually occur in July, August, or September. The season may range earlier and later due to our prolonged hot weather. Naegleria fowleri is not found in salt water (like the ocean) and infections can not spread from person to person.


How Can You Avoid “Brain-Eating Amoeba?


Naegleria fowleri is usually found in the sediments of warm water. Therefore, the best way to avoid infection is to avoid stirring up bottom of lakes, rivers, ponds, or other bodies of water. Discourage children of all ages from digging around in the shallows or diving down to dig in the sediments. Reduce your risk of infection by keeping your face away from the bottom sediments in warm water.


You cannot get infected by drinking contaminated water or by eating fish from water containing Brain-Eating Amoeba. The only way to ‘catch’ Brain-Eating Amoeba is by having water containing the amoeba enter the nose.


-Avoid playing or swimming in warm shallow water during the summer months to reduce your risk.

-Avoid warm, shallow, or stagnant water when water skiing, tubing, or jet-skiing as these activities can cause water to be forced up the nose.

-Protect yourself and your family further by encouraging those playing or swimming in warm water to wear ear plugs and a nose clip.


According to the CDC, “These recommendations make common sense but are not based on any scientific testing since the low numbers of infections make it difficult to ever show that they are effective.”


What are the Symptoms of PAM?


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms may be mild at first but will worsen quickly. The CDC lists the following symptoms:


Symptoms usually start 5 days post-infection but may range from 1-7 days post-infection

Typically include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting.


Later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures, hallucinations, and lack of attention to people or surroundings.


After symptoms begin, the illness typically causes death within 5 days but may range from 1-12 days.


Contact your doctor immediately, if you suspect infection after playing or swimming in warm water. In the few known cases of survival, the patients recognized the symptoms early and administered proper treatment quickly. Seek treatment immediately to improve chances of success.


The fatality rate for Naegleria fowleri infections is over 97%. Only four out of 154 known-infected individuals in the United States have survived since the amoeba was first identified in the 1960s, according to the CDC.

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