Brain-Eating Amoeba Claims Third U.S. Life: How to Stay Safe

 @ibtimes
on August 18 2011 11:19 AM
Brain-Eating Amoeba
Pictured is a histopathology of amoebic meningoencephalitis. Symptoms of an infection include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures and hallucinations. Wikimedia Commons

A rare but deadly waterborne brain-eating amoeba called Naegleria fowleri has been blamed for three deaths in the United States within the last few weeks, according to recent reports.

Christian Alexander Strickland, 9, of Henrico County, Va. became the third amoeba death in the United States after he was infected while at a fishing camp and died from amoeba meningitis on Aug. 5, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The suspected cause of the illness was caused by Naegleria fowleri, often referred to as, brain-eating amoeba, the boy's aunt Bonnie Strickland told the Richmond newspaper.

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.

CDC officials say Naegleria is a microscopic amoeba (single-celled living organism) that can cause a very rare, but severe, infection of the brain, and that amoeba is commonly found in warm, occasionally, in neglected, non-chlorinated freshwater - lakes, rivers, and hot springs - and soil.

Naegleria fowleri does not pose a threat to swimmers in local springs, well-maintained pools and the ocean, cannot be transmitted from person to person, and enters the nasal passages... and migrates to the olfactory nerves, eventually invading the brain, according to the agency.

The first unusual death this year occurred in June in Louisiana, according to the CDC.

An unidentified young man, reportedly is his 20s, died after placing tap water in a device called a neti pot, a small teapot-shaped container used to rinse out the nose and sinuses with salt water to relieve allergies, colds.

Health officials later found the amoeba in the home's water system.

The problem was confined to the house; it wasn't found in city water samples, later said Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana's state epidemiologist.

Dr. Keri Hall, state epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health, agreed, Sadly, we have had a Naegleria infection in Virginia this summer. It's important that people be aware of … safe swimming messages, in a statement.

Symptoms of an infection include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures and hallucinations.

Earlier this month, 16-year-old Courtney Nash of Florida died from a Naegleria fowleri infection she developed after swimming in the St. John's River, ABC News reported.

As the second death due to the infection, Nash died Saturday, 10 days after she, her brother and four friends went swimming Aug. 3 in the St. Johns River on Florida's east coast, her uncle, Thomas Uzel, said at a news conference.

They were having fun just like any other kid would out in the water, Uzel said.

Out of 118 people reported to have had the amoeba infection since 1962, only one survived, and most reported cases have been in the southern states of Florida and Texas, Yoder said.

Yoder said the average age of the amoeba victims is 12.

Researchers report that the amoebas proliferate when the water temperature reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but they also survive at cooler temperatures.

Anti-fungal drugs are effective against the amoeba in the laboratory, but the infection in humans typically cannot be diagnosed quickly enough to save the patient.

I didn't get my miracle, but she has performed other miracles. If we can save other people's lives so they don't have to go through what I just went though, this could be a blessing in disguise, said Patricia Nash, about her daughter.

Currently, there is no known treatment for people who develop a brain infection with this bug, said Dr. Roy Gulick, chief of infectious disease at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, MSNBC reported.

Here are the CDC's tips for prevention:

* Refrain from activities in warm, untreated or poorly treated water, especially when water levels are low and temperatures are high.

* Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when swimming in warm fresh water.

* Avoid digging or stirring up underwater sediments while submerged in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

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