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Brain Eating Amoebas With 95% Death Rate Kill People Swimming In Rivers Across US

The CDC confirms very rare brain eating amoebas with a 95% lethality rate has killed people swimming in rivers in Louisiana, Florida and Virginia rivers. ...

by Alexander Higgins

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The CDC confirms very rare brain eating amoebas with a 95% lethality rate has killed people swimming in rivers in Louisiana, Florida and Virginia rivers.

CNN reports:

Brain-eating amoebas blamed in three deaths


3 people have died after a waterborne amoeba infected their brains, the CDC confirms.
While rare, the amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri, is more than 95% lethal
Amoebas can enter the human nose after a person jumps or dives into warm fresh water
It’s eerie but it’s true: Three people have died this summer after suffering rare infections from a waterborne amoeba that destroys the brain.This is the time of year when there is an uptick in cases. The amoebas flourish in the heat — especially during the summer months in the South, thriving in warm waters where people swim.

Health officials usually record about two to three cases in a given year — 1980 was the highest with eight deaths. And most of the time, they occur in children and teenagers.

“These are rare infections, but super tragic for families,” said Jonathan Yoder, the waterborne disease and outbreak surveillance coordinator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We don’t want to minimize how hard it is for families.”

The amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri, is the only type that infects humans and is more than 95% lethal. The first death in 2011 occurred in June in Louisiana, according to the CDC.

A 16-year-old died Saturday after becoming infected by an amoeba in Brevard County, Florida, according to CNN’s affiliate WFTV. The amoeba could have entered the teen’s body as the teen swam in a nearby river.

[…]A spinal tap showed that Naegleria fowleri was present in her spinal fluids.

In another case, the Virginia Department of Health confirmed Friday that a child from central Virginia died from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which is caused by the amoeba. The Richmond Times Dispatch said the child was a 9-year-old boy from Henrico County.

[…] Virginia’s last confirmed case was in 1969.

Amoeba infections in humans are extremely rare. The CDC found 32 reported cases in 10 years — compared with 36,000 drowning deaths from 1996 to 2005.

Rare but deadly amoeba infection hard to prevent


The amoebas enter the human body through the nose after an individual swims or dives into warm fresh water, like ponds, lakes, rivers and even hot springs.

[…]The amoeba is not a parasite. A human is an “accidental end point for the amoeba after it’s forced up the nose,” Yoder said. It does not seek human hosts.

But when an amoeba gets lodged into a person’s nose, it starts looking for food. It ends up in the brain and starts eating neurons.

“It causes a great deal of trauma and a great deal of damage,” Yoder said. “It’s a tragic infection. It’s right at the frontal lobe. It affects behavior and the core of who they are — their emotions, their ability to reason — it’s very difficult.”

Early symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and neck stiffness. Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.

The amoeba multiplies, and the body mounts a defense against the infection. This, combined with the rapidly increasing amoebas, cause the brain to swell, creating immense pressure. At some point, the brain stops working.

Death typically occurs three to seven days after the symptoms start.

At hospitals, the infection is often mistaken for bacterial meningitis. Even when the diagnosis is made, the infection is difficult to treat.

The primary treatment for Naegleria infection is amphotericin B, an antifungal medication injected into the veins and brain.

But so far, only one person — back in 1978 — is known to have survived an infection, Yoder said.

Everybody panics because the amoeba infection is so deadly, but Cabral reminded: “The incidence of this disease is very very small, but when it happens it’s tragic.”


From the CDC’:

Naegleria FAQs

What is Naegleria?

Naegleria is an ameba (single-celled living organism) commonly found in warm freshwater (for example, lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and soil. Only one species (type) of Naegleria infects people: Naegleria fowleri.

How does infection with Naegleria fowleri occur?

Naegleria fowleri infects people by entering the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. The Naegleria fowleri ameba travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue.

You cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water. In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated tap water <47°C) enters the nose, for example when people submerge their heads or cleanse during religious practices (1), and, possibly, when people irrigate their sinuses (nose).

Where is Naegleria fowleri found?

Naegleria fowleri is found around the world. In the United States, the majority of infections have been caused by Naegleria fowleri from freshwater located in southern-tier states (2). The ameba can be found in:

Bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes and rivers
Geothermal (naturally hot) water, such as hot springs
Warm water discharge from industrial plants
Geothermal (naturally hot) drinking water sources
Swimming pools that are poorly maintained, minimally-chlorinated, and/or un-chlorinated
Water heaters with temperatures less than 47°C (3, 4)
Naegleria fowleri is not found in salt water, like the ocean.

Can I get a Naegleria fowleri infection from a disinfected swimming pool?

No. You cannot get a Naegleria fowleri infection from a properly cleaned, maintained, and disinfected swimming pool.

How common are Naegleria fowleri infections in the United States?

Naegleria fowleri infections are very rare. In the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, 32 infections were reported in the U.S. Of those cases, 30 people were infected by contaminated recreational water and two people were infected by water from a geothermal (naturally hot) drinking water supply.

When do Naegleria fowleri infections most commonly occur?

While infections with Naegleria fowleri are very rare, they occur mainly during the summer months of July, August, and September. Infections are more likely to occur in southern-tier states, but can also occur in other locations. Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which causes higher water temperatures and lower water levels. Infections can increase during heat wave years.

Can infection be spread from one person to another?

No. Naegleria fowleri infection cannot be spread from one person to another.

What are the symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection?

Naegleria fowleri causes the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue. In its early stages, symptoms of PAM may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis.

Initial symptoms of PAM start 1 to 7 days after infection. The initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include 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 1 to 12 days.

Is there effective treatment for infection with Naegleria fowleri?

It is not clear. Several drugs are effective against Naegleria fowleri in the laboratory. However, their effectiveness is unclear since almost all infections have been fatal, even when people were treated.

What should I do if I have been swimming or playing in freshwater and now think I have symptoms associated with Naegleria fowleri?

Infection with Naegleria fowleri is very rare. The early symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection are more likely to be caused by other more common illnesses, such as meningitis. People should seek medical care immediately whenever they develop a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, and vomiting, particularly if they have been in warm freshwater recently.

How common is Naegleria fowleri in the environment?

Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in lakes in southern-tier states during the summer. This means that recreational water users should be aware that there will always be a low level risk of infection when entering these waters. In very rare instances, Naegleria has been identified in water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated tap water <47°C).

Is there a routine and rapid test for Naegleria fowleri in the water?

No. It can take weeks to identify the ameba, but new detection tests are under development. Previous water testing has shown that Naegleria fowleri is very common in freshwater venues. Therefore, recreational water users should assume that there is a low level of risk when entering all warm freshwater, particularly in southern-tier states.

How does the risk of Naegleria fowleri infection compare with other water-related risks?

The risk of Naegleria fowleri infection is very low. There have been 32 reported infections in the U.S. in the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, despite millions of recreational water exposures each year. By comparison, in the ten years from 1996 to 2005, there were over 36,000 drowning deaths in the U.S.

How will the public know if a lake or other water body has Naegleria?

Recreational water users should assume that there is always a low level of risk whenever they enter warm freshwater (for example, when swimming, diving, or waterskiing) in southern-tier states. Posting signs is unlikely to be an effective way to prevent infections. This is because the location and number of amebae in the water can vary over time. In addition, posted signs might create a misconception that bodies of water without signs are Naegleria fowleri-free.

How can I reduce the risk of infection with Naegleria fowleri?

Naegleria fowleri is found in many warm freshwater lakes and rivers in the United States, particularly in southern tier states. It is likely that a low risk of Naegleria fowleri infection will always exist with recreational use of warm freshwater lakes, rivers, and hot springs. The low number of infections makes it difficult to know why a few people have been infected compared to the millions of other people using the same or similar waters across the U.S. The only certain way to prevent a Naegleria fowleri infection is to refrain from water-related activities in or with warm, untreated, or poorly-treated water.

If you do plan to take part in water-related activities, some measures that might reduce risk include:

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.
Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

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