“Brain-eating amoeba”

What’s the News?

South Korea reported its first case of infection from Naegleria fowleri or “brain-eating amoeba”.

Naegleria fowleri (Amoeba)
  • Naegleria is an amoeba, a single-celled organism.
  • It is only one of its species and can infect humans.
  • It was first discovered in Australia in 1965.
  • It is commonly found in warm freshwater bodies such as hot springs, rivers and lakes.

NoteSo far, Naegleria fowleri has been found in all continents and declared as the cause of PAM in over 16 countries, including India.

How does it infect humans?
  • The amoeba enters the human body through the nose and then travels up to the brain.
  • This can usually happen when someone goes for a swim, or dive or even when they dip their head in a freshwater body.
  • In some cases, it was found that people got infected when they cleaned their nostrils with contaminated water/ vapour/ or aerosol droplets
  • Once Naegleria fowleri goes to the brain, it destroys brain tissues and causes a dangerous infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM)
NoteThere is no evidence that shows it can be found in water vapour or aerosol droplets.
  • First signs of PAM start showing within one to 12 days after the infection.
  • In the initial stages, might be similar to symptoms of meningitisheadache, nausea and fever.
  • In the later stages, one can suffer from a stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, and even coma.
  • The infection spreads rapidly and on average causes death within about five days.
  • It is rare and progresses quickly so there is as such no treatment available.
  • Its patients have been treated with combination of drugs, including amphotericin B, azithromycin, fluconazole, rifampin, miltefosine, and dexamethasone.
Climate change and infection
  • With the rising global temperatures, the chances of getting Naegleria fowleri infection will go up as the amoeba mainly thrives in warm freshwater bodies.
  • The organism best grows in high temperatures up to 46°C and sometimes can survive at even higher temperatures.
  • Various recent studies have found that excess atmospheric carbon dioxide has led to an increase in the temperature of lakes and rivers.
  • These conditions provide a more favourable environment for the amoeba to grow.
    Heat waves, when air and water temperatures may be higher than usual, may also allow the amoeba to thrive

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