The term “brain eating amoeba” sounds like a work of science fiction or a bad horror film, but sadly it is all too real. The real name for this villainous bug is Naegleria fowleri . And now there has been a third person killed by the amoeba, a boy who was just 9-years-old. Christian Alexander Strickland was from Virginia and reportedly became infected after going away to fishing camp and he was the second young victim this month. The other was 16-year-old Courtney Nash who became infected from swimming in St. John’s River in Florida. A third victim died after swimming in Louisiana in June but their age was not released.
So what is Naegleria fowleri and how can you avoid it?
Naegleria fowleri is fast moving. It enters the body through the nose and destroys brain tissue. The bug takes over and causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which is almost always a fatal disease of the central nervous system. Naegleria fowleri is usually found in warm, stagnant water in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers as well as in wells.
“It’s a very rare disease,” an expert explained. “There have only been 111 cases reported since 1962. So it’s difficult to know what an effective treatment might be.” One issue is that “people don’t think of the diagnosis,” and it is quick acting. Symptoms appear two to 15 days after being infected and death follows about 3 to 7 days later.
What’s really scary? There is no cure or treatment for it. And there is no vaccine. Inoculation with the meningitis vaccine wouldn’t help since that only targets meningitis-causing bacteria and does not protect from this pesky amoeba.
But don’t get too worried, this is apparently not some sign of an outbreak. Experts believe it’s more just a coincidence. Reportedly millions are exposed to the Naegleria fowleri but only an extremely small percentage actually develop the meningitis that it can cause.
What can you do to narrow those odds even more? Officials say that you should avoid swimming in bodies of freshwater. And if you do, then you should wear nose plugs or make sure to hold your nose when you dive or jump in the water. But there is apparently no risk from swimming in springs, pools that have been well-maintained or by swimming in the ocean. And it is not something you can catch, it does not get passed on from person to person.
Does the idea of the “brain-eating amoeba” still freak you out? Will you change how you spend the rest of the summer?
Image: ABC News
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