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What Is the Brain-Eating Amoeba That Recently Killed a Child in Texas and How to Avoid It

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amoeba - Sputnik International, 1920, 29.09.2021
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A brain-eating amoeba killed a Texas child on September 11th. The culprit, Naegleria fowleri, is found all throughout the southern United States. Here’s how to avoid tragedy.
A child died after visiting a splash pad in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Officials were alerted on September 5th that the child was suffering from meningoencephalitis, brain swelling, caused by the brain eating amoeba, naegleria fowleri.
The child tragically succumbed six days later. The rare condition has no known cures, and the few treatments available are minimally effective. According to the CDC, there is a 97% fatality rate for those suffering from an infection brought on by naegleria fowleri. In the 148 documented instances from 1962 to 2019, only four people have survived.
Several drugs have been shown to be effective against naegleria fowleri in laboratory settings, but that success has not translated in the real world. A new therapeutic known as miltefosine recently helped two people survive when combined with aggressive management of brain swelling.
Where is Naegleria fowleri?
Naegleria fowleri is only found in freshwater and prefers warm temperatures. The amoeba prefers warmer temperatures up to 115°F (46°C) and its reproductive rate is highest at moderately warm temperatures. The amoeba is found in soil and has also been found in geothermal water, warm water discharge from industrial plants, swimming pools that are poorly maintained, and water heaters.
In human infections, the amoeba travels up through the nose and into the brain, with no documented cases coming from the drinking of contaminated water. In a few rare instances, infection has been caused through nasal rinsing of improperly maintained and cleaned devices.
Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in lakes and rivers in warmer regions. The amount and concentration of the amoeba play a significant role in the risk of infection, which is incredibly low. From 2010 to 2019, only 34 deaths occurred in the United States, compared to over 34,000 drowning deaths from 2001 to 2010.
How to stay safe from Naegleria fowleri
The best way to stay safe from naegleria fowleri is to avoid swimming in freshwater during the warmer parts of the year. If you do, try to avoid submerging your head underwater.
According to the CDC, “Initial symptoms of PAM start about 5 days (range 1 to 9 days) after infection. The initial symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include stiff neck, 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 about 5 days (range 1 to 12 days).”
If you experience any of these symptoms following a swim in freshwater, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. However, thousands of people swim in warm freshwater every year in the United States. Even if you flout these recommendations, you’re likely to be just fine.
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