It might sound like something out of a horror movie, but it’s true–three people have died this year from brain-eating amoebas that flourish in warm water, especially during the summer. While it sounds creepy and strange to us, it is devastating to victims and their families as the side effects ravage the body.
The amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, is the only type that infects humans and is 95% lethal. The amoebas thrive in the heat and are usually found where people like to swim. The amoebas enter the body through the nose after an individual swims or dives in warm fresh water. Scientists aren’t sure why some people who swim in these types of waters go untouched by the amoeba, while others suffer lethal consequences. However, scientists speculate that a lack of certain types of antibodies make some people more susceptible than others. The amoebas aren’t looking for human hosts, either, they simply get lodged inside of the nose and start looking for food. Sadly, that food is the brain and they start eating neurons, leading to headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and neck stiffness. Advanced symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations. Infected individuals usually die within 3 to 7 days. Primary treatment includes an antifungal medication that is injected into the veins and brain, but only one person is known to have survived.
Recently, a 16-year-old from Florida died after becoming infected by the amoeba. According to her mother, the young girl complained of a headache, ran a fever as high as 104 degrees, and threw up twenty times. A spinal tap revealed that the amoeba were present in her spinal fluids. In another case, a 9-year-old boy in Virginia died after contracting primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which is caused by the amoeba. The first case of the summer occured in Louisiana in June. Fortunately, amoeba infections are very rare according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC found 32 reported cases in 10 years and compares that to the nearly 36,000 drowning deaths that occurred between 1996 to 2005. The CDC provides the following tips for prevention:
- Refrain from activities in warm, untreated waters, particularly when water levels are low and temperatures are high.
- Hold your nose shut or use nose clips when diving in fresh water.
- Avoid stirring up underwater sediments when swimming in shallow warm waters.
Overall, while the effects of the amoeba are devastating, the likelihood that you’ll get infected is very low.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.