What is Naegleria fowleri?

Before you take the kids and try to cool off this summer at the lake in your town, you should know about Naegleria fowleri.

brain-eating amoeba

Naegleri fowleri Image/CDC

This relatively rare, pathogenic amoeba is found in warm or hot freshwater like lakes, rivers and hot springs. It is also possible to get it from dirty unchlorinated or under-chlorinated swimming pools. This parasite is found worldwide and in the United States, it is found in mainly in the southern-tier states.

Naegleria fowleri  is a single celled, free-living amoeba. It is also called the “brain-eating amoeba”.

People typically contract this parasite when contaminated water rushes up the nose when jumping into the water. Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). From here it destroys brain tissue with a fatality rate of well over 99 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), initial symptoms of PAM start about 5 days (range 1 to 7 days) after infection. The initial symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about 5 days (range 1 to 12 days).

It is a rather rare infections with some 128 known cases recorded in the US since 1962; however, there is only one known survivor. And in the one survivor, it has been suggested that the survivor’s strain of Naegleria fowleri was less virulent.

Treatment for this parasite has been unsatisfactory.

You should always assume there is some risk when swimming in freshwater. The location and number of amoeba present in a body of water varies from time to time. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends these four steps to reduce your risk of infection:

• Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs, and thermally-polluted water such as water around power plants.
• Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.
• Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs.
• Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

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- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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