Brain-Eating Amoeba (Naegleriasis)

Brain Eating Amoeba nose

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Numbers suggest that infection and death by naegleriasis is quite rare. One doesn’t get the infection by swallowing contaminated water. It occurs only when the contaminated water enters the nose and the parasite reaches the brain. Over the period of 2006-2015, only 37 cases of naegleriasis were reported as opposed to the high number of deaths caused by drowning (34,000) from 2001 to 2010. So statistically speaking, drowning is a bigger danger than naegleriasis infection when swimming. But this doesn’t discount the preventive and protective measures one must take to cut down the risk of naegleriasis.
Naegleriasis thrives in warm and humid waters – hot water springs, lakes during summers, industrial discharge – all of these are potential hubs of naegleriasis. This is not found in saltwater such as seas and oceans.
Naegleriasis is the number one cause of PAM (primary amebic meningoencephalitis), a fatal disease of the central nervous system. During the period of 1962 to 2018, roughly 145 cases of PAM have been recorded in the USA. Only 4 of these cases have been able to survive the disease. Naegleriasis statistics reveal that in the USA, this infection has affected males and children much more than women. One reason could be that swimming and related activities are more frequented by kids and men.

Overview

Naegleria fowleri is a species of amoeba that is notorious for its ability to afflict humans with a rare and deadly disease known as naegleriasis by aggressively attacking the central nervous system. This single-celled microorganism normally thrives in warm, stagnant freshwater environments such as lakes, mud pools, hot springs and even in the soil.

Its diet typically consists of bacteria and yeast but when it comes into contact with humans and infects them, it begins to actively feed on brain tissue. The microbe’s ability to thrive in warm environments means that it can even survive any fever response mounted by the human body. Its ability to withstand and evade the human immune system makes N. fowleri a highly virulent pathogen. The infection cannot, however, spread from one human to another. It has not been possible to conduct clinical trials due to the sporadic incidence and rarity of naegleriasis. Hence, there is no known cure or vaccine and survival rates are very poor.

What Is Brain-Eating Amoeba or Naegleriasis?

Brain Eating Amoeba noseNaegleriasis is a disease caused by infection with a species of amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. It is also known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The pathogen, usually present in a contaminated water source, enters the body through the nose.

Subsequently, it attaches itself to the olfactory nerve, travels to the frontal lobe of the brain and spreads throughout the brain, feeding voraciously on nervous tissue. This organism is believed to be particularly deadly because it has developed effective mechanisms for combating the human body’s immune response and also because it multiplies rapidly once it begins feeding on nervous tissue. The PAM, characterized by inflammation and hemorrhaging, progresses quickly in a matter of days and almost invariably ends in fatality.

How Does It Happen?

The direct cause of naegleriasis is infection with the disease-causing amoeba N. fowleri. Swimming in ponds, hot springs or insufficiently chlorinated swimming pools infested with this amoeba greatly increases the risk of contracting an infection and developing PAM. In a rare instance, infection was contracted after the individual underwent a baptism ceremony which involved ritual immersion in water which happened to be contaminated.

However, contact with N. fowleri is in fact far more common than the incidence of naegleriasis would indicate. This suggests that infection is not a necessary outcome of exposure to the microbe, although it is unclear why this is so. N. fowleri exists in trophozoite form or actively feeding form at warmer temperatures. Further, humans tend to engage in more water-based activities during the hotter months of the year. Hence, the incidence of naegleriasis is relatively higher in the summer season.

How Does The Brain-Eating Amoeba Affect The Brain?

BRAIN-EATING AMOEBA (NAEGLERIASIS)The incubation period can last anywhere between two days and a fortnight from the time of infection. The onset of symptoms can even occur within 24 hours post infection. The pathogen first enters the body through the nose, attaches itself to the olfactory nerve and attacks the olfactory bulbs in the frontal part of the brain. It extends special feeding structures called food cups to ingest nervous tissue and releases substances that cause the breakdown or lysis of nerves. Naegleriasis typically manifests in the form of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) which produces symptoms typical of progressive breakdown of nervous function:

  • Loss of smell and taste.
  • Fever.
  • A severe headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • The blurring of vision.
  • The stiffness of neck muscles.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Inability to control body movement.
  • Abnormal heart rhythm in rare instances.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

What Are The Complications?

The progress of naegleriasis is notoriously rapid and a patient can die within a week of the onset of symptoms. The pathogen multiplies quickly, feeding aggressively on nervous tissue, triggering an intense inflammatory response and causing hemorrhage.

As the disease runs its course the patient begins to experience hallucinations and seizures and eventually descends into a comatose state. The buildup of pressure within the cranium and rise in cerebrospinal fluid pressure is usually the direct cause of death. Unfortunately, in the absence of a viable treatment, fatality is the most likely outcome. Only in a few cases have patients been known to survive.

What Tests Can Help To Detect Brain-Eating Amoeba?

BRAIN-EATING AMOEBA (NAEGLERIASIS) waterThe primary site of N. fowleri pathogenicity is the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) reveals the swelling and hemorrhaging in this area. But these signs do not in themselves provide a clue as to the identity of the infectious agent. Cases of naegleriasis have sometimes been misinterpreted as bacterial or viral meningitis and in most instances, an accurate diagnosis of the true cause has only been made post-mortem.

N. fowleri exists in its active trophozoite form in the brain and cerebrospinal fluid. Ordinary blood tests and scans cannot reveal its presence. Therefore, if naegleriasis is suspected, an effective way to detect the pathogen in the patient’s body is through a procedure known as lumbar puncture which enables the extraction of a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. Biopsy of brain tissue specimens also reveals the presence of N. fowleri trophozoites.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment – Swift diagnosis and treatment with specific antifungals may be useful. But recovery is rare. Hospitals most commonly treat brain-eating amoeba with the anti-fungal drug amphotericin. It is typically injected into the vein or in the space around the spinal cord. The antifungal drug kills the amoeba so that there can be no further damage. Miltefosine is a potentially life-saving experimental drug that helps treat people who are infected with the brain-eating amoeba virus.

Prevention 

  • Do not dive, jump or swim in warm surface waters.
  • Make sure that the swimming pool or spa that you are going to is clean and well kept.
  • Keep sprinklers and hoses away from your nose.

Facts

  • In the United States, between 2006-2015 the single-celled organism has affected 37 people.
  • The brain-eating amoeba is called naegleria fowlri.
  • According to CDC, this amoeba lives in living in warm water. Like – lakes, rivers, and hot springs.

Facts

  • It can survive in temperatures as high as 115 fahrenheit (46 degree celsius)
  • It does not live in the sea.
  • It enters the body through the nose and not by swallowing water.

Facts

  • It was first discovered in 1965. It was first identified in Australia but is believed to have evolved in America.
  • It is 8-15 micrometers in size, depending on its life stage and development.

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Numbers suggest that infection and death by naegleriasis is quite rare. One doesn’t get the infection by swallowing contaminated water. It occurs only when the contaminated water enters the nose and the parasite reaches the brain. Over the period of 2006-2015, only 37 cases of naegleriasis were reported as opposed to the high number of deaths caused by drowning (34,000) from 2001 to 2010. So statistically speaking, drowning is a bigger danger than naegleriasis infection when swimming. But this doesn’t discount the preventive and protective measures one must take to cut down the risk of naegleriasis.
Naegleriasis thrives in warm and humid waters – hot water springs, lakes during summers, industrial discharge – all of these are potential hubs of naegleriasis. This is not found in saltwater such as seas and oceans.
Naegleriasis is the number one cause of PAM (primary amebic meningoencephalitis), a fatal disease of the central nervous system. During the period of 1962 to 2018, roughly 145 cases of PAM have been recorded in the USA. Only 4 of these cases have been able to survive the disease. Naegleriasis statistics reveal that in the USA, this infection has affected males and children much more than women. One reason could be that swimming and related activities are more frequented by kids and men.

 

Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Plug your nose whenever swimming.
  • Be aware of the areas where the bacterium prevails, for instance, Ohio River, New York harbor, Kolao landing (Hawaii) etc.
  • Visit your doctor immediately after going to a water park, river or lake where the water might be infected.
Don'ts
  • Swim or paddle in rivers after a heavy rainstorm.
  • Stir up the sediments of shallow, warm water.
  • Swallow warm, still standing water.

 

 

 

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Liver Function Test – LFT LFT or Liver Function Test is a blood test used to determine the levels of hepatic enzymes which…
colposcopy
Colposcopy Colposcopy is a simple, quick and non- invasive diagnostic tool to look closely inside the vulva, vagina, and…
Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (G6PD) test Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) is an enzyme that is found in every cell of the body and it plays…
Strep throat pain
Anti-Streptolysin-O Test The ASO or Anti-Streptolysin-O is a blood test designed to check for the presence of streptococcus bacterial infection…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
carrageenan seaweed
Carrageenan: How a simple seaweed extract could better your gut health & immunity Eat more ice cream to prevent cold and flu? –With carrageenan you get one simple seaweed extract that…
nutritional yeast bread
Nutritional Yeast : How can a fungi culture be good for your body? Nutritional yeast: How a simple culture of fungi can transform your skin, digestion, immunity , and much more.…
kefir bottle
Kefir: Top reasons why this probiotic drink should be consumed by you Yet another remarkable fermented food, kefir is a much healthier version of yogurt. These chewy white grains can…
How seitan proved to be a blessing in disguise for vegans worldwide Can only meat-eaters enjoy delicious juicy steaks and burgers? With seitan, the best meat substitute available today,even vegans…
Is bronchitis contagious? And how to prevent this infection? It is acute bronchitis that is contagious which means you can contract it from another person or you…
Barium-enema
Barium Enema Barium enema is also known as colon x-ray. Here, the patient is asked to consume small amount of…
GGt test
GGT – Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Test GGT or gammaglutamyl transferase test is a liver function test that is used to detect the extent of…
Tight phimosis ring
Phimosis Read to know everything about phimosis, types, symptoms, treatment, risks and prognosis for patients with this condition.
Cayenne: The remarkable benefits of these red hot chili peppers These may make you rush for a glass of water, but cayenne pepper is actually a healthy additive…
Love tea, hate tannins? Rooibos tea is just what you need The market is brimming with a multitude of herbal teas. But what makes rooibos tea (or red bush)…
BRAT Diet: What is the right way to follow this diarrhea-relieving diet? BRAT diet, a simple diet consisting of just bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, can help you combat the…
What is the right way to take a pregnancy test? A pregnancy test is undertaken to determine if you have conceived. A home pregnancy test is the most…
Gatorade: Top things you need to know about this staple energy drink Gatorade is a popular (in fact the most popular) energy drink worldwide. But this power-packed drinks comes with…
Vagus nerve: 7 health benefits of stimulating the “gut-brain” connection As a matter of fact, there are two vagus nerves namely the left and the right but is…
liver cleanse detox
14 go-to foods that are best for a complete natural liver detox Liver cleanse can be achieved by just choosing or avoiding certain types of food. Liver itself is a detoxifying…
Vitamin-D-blood-test
25-Hydroxy Vitamin D test 25-hydroxy Vitamin D test is a blood test used to measure the level of vitamin D in the…
blood elements analysis
Blood Element Analysis Test A blood element analysis is a blood test performed to measure the level of toxic elements such as…
phenytoin test
Phenytoin test Phenytoin is a drug that is administered mainly to epilepsy patients. The phenytoin blood test measures the level…
malarial antigen test
Malaria Antigen Test A malaria antigen test is a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) that can detect malarial antigens (proteins) in your…
Unbelievable health benefits of gooseberries (and a few tasty recipes) Gooseberries are antioxidant-rich tasty fruits that can be easily added in daily diet to improve overall health and…
piles fissure fistula
Allopathy vs homeopathy vs ayurveda treatment for piles, fissures, and fistula Read to know the best form of treatment among allopathy, homeopathy,or ayurveda for piles, fissures, and fistula
hidden causes obesity
8 hidden causes of obesity you probably didn’t know! Did you know that around 2 billion people worldwide are either overweight or obese? Are you too a…
liver detox facts
7 liver detox facts and why ignoring these could kill you! Are you taking care of this organ that handles over 500 different vital functions in your body? Your…
L-theanine attention
L-Theanine: Better sleep, higher focus, and many other benefits Did you know that L-theanine found in green tea can make you sleep better and be focused at…
Dragon Fruit – Blessing from Nature’s Basket Dragon fruit is packed with nutrients but low on calories. It is the dream food that can help…
Valerian Root: The best way to achieve tranquil sleep every night Valerian root is probably one of the oldest and safest way to cure your insomnia. Find out how…
Did you know drinking alkaline water could be the healthier choice for you? Ever wondered how safe is your drinking water in terms of pH? Recent studies have revealed that Alkaline…
Kava: Is it the healthy substitute for alcohol you have been waiting for? Native to the beautiful South Pacific islands, Kava is a famous beverage rooted in the local culture. It…
Goji berry: A traditional Chinese berry that packs the best of antioxidants Goji berry is an ancient berry that is considered to be power-packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Which means…
Sciatica pain relief: Get rid of the pain with these easy daily tips Researchers have claimed that not only heat but icing the area too helps relieve sciatica pain. Find out…
The Cabbage Soup Diet: The healthiest way to instant weight loss Cabbage soup diet rapid weight loss diet for those who want to shed those extra pounds in less…
shakeology woman
Meal replacement or protein drink? Learn all about Shakeology and its claims Shakeology from Beachbody claims to be the most suitable shake that can aid in weight loss, regulate blood…
C-Reactive Protein Test A CRP or c-reactive protein blood test is an important diagnostic tool used to determine the risk of…
free psa test
Free PSA Test The free PSA test is used to detect the level or percentage of free PSA in the body…
Thyroid disorders
Thyroid Profile Thyroid profile is a panel of blood tests performed to check if an individual is suffering from any…
DHEA wrinkles
DHEA: Now get unbelievable age defiance with this wonder hormone! DHEA is known popularly as the age-defying hormone. This supplement is widely used to slow down aging and…