Health

Deadly brain-eating amoeba: what to know

A Texas child was killed by the disease earlier in September

A rare brain-eating amoeba infected and killed a child in Texas earlier this month. 

Arlington officials said that the boy had been hospitalized with primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) – a rare and often fatal infection caused by the naegleria fowleri amoeba – before his death on Sept. 11.

The amoeba was found at a Texas splash pad the child had visited and a review discovered lapses in water-quality testing at several parks.

The amoeba is largely found in freshwater located in southern states, including warm bodies of freshwater, geothermal water, warm water discharge, poorly maintained swimming pools, water heaters, soil and geothermal drinking water sources. 

Naegleria fowleri is not found in saltwater and grows best at higher temperatures up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

People cannot be infected from drinking water containing the amoeba and infections only occur when water containing naegleria fowleri enters the body through the nose and then travels to the brain.

Infections typically occur when people go swimming or diving in warm, freshwater places, though naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources enters the nose and when people irrigate their sinuses using contaminated tap water.

Occurring mainly during the summer months of July, August and September, infections are rare.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 infections were reported in the U.S. from 2010 to 2019. Thirty of the 34 were infected by recreational water.

Once the amoeba enters the nose, it causes PAM in the brain, which is usually fatal and leads to the destruction of brain tissue. 

The agency noted that early symptoms of PAM may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis.

Symptoms begin about five days after infection and include headache, fever, nausea or vomiting. 

Later symptoms can include a stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.

After symptoms start, the disease causes death within about five days.

The fatality rate is over 97% and only four people out of 148 known infected individuals in the U.S. from 1962 to 2019 have survived.

Russ Jones, the chief epidemiologist for the Tarrant County Public Health Department, told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday that submerging one’s head under freshwater can increase the risk of contracting naegleria fowleri.

Holding one’s nose while underwater can decrease that risk, he said.

Written by Julia Musto 

Categories: Health

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