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What you should know about brain-eating amoeba

Naegleria fowleri
Naegleria fowleri (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

HOUSTON – Naegleria fowleri is the scientific name of the single-celled organism that we commonly refer to as the “brain-eating amoeba.”

Here’s a closer look at the parasite assembled from information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Where is it found?

According to the CDC, the organisms are usually found in warm freshwater, warm water discharge from industrial or power plants, geothermal well water, poorly maintained pools, water heaters and the soil.

What can it do?

According to the CDC, the amoeba can cause a rare but devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, also known as PAM. The disease, which affects the person’s central nervous system, progresses rapidly, making it difficult to diagnose.

How do you get infected?

According to the CDC, people do not get infected by drinking water that is contaminated with the amoeba. Instead, people are infected when the contaminated water enters their nose, which allows the parasite to travel to their brain along the olfactory nerve.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms begin to manifest between one and nine days after a person is infected and happen in two stages. The first stage symptoms include a severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. The second stage symptoms include a stiff neck, seizures, an altered mental state, hallucinations and coma.

What is the treatment?

Most cases of the disease in the United States are fatal, according to the CDC. However, a drug called miltefosine, in combination with other drugs, has shown promise. In two cases, the bodies of the patients were also cooled below the normal temperature in order to control brain swelling.

How rare is it?

There are between zero and eight infections reported in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. There were 34 infections reported in the U.S. between 2009 and 2018.

For more information about Naegleria fowleri, go to CDC.gov.


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