Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba is a microorganism that causes naegleria infection. The amoeba does not eat up the brain as the common name implies but it is known to cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
Naegleria infection is a rare infection with only 34 cases reported in the United States by the Centre for Disease Control between 2008 and 2017.
The symptoms of naegleria infection are similar to that of meningitis. Symptoms appear between 24 hours and 2 weeks after infection. Early symptoms include fever, severe headache, nausea, or vomiting. The infection progressively worsens and present with late symptoms like stiff neck, drowsiness, light sensitivity, confusion, loss of balance, hallucinations, and seizures.
A tiny single-celled microorganism called Naegleria fowleri causes the Naegleria infection. It is commonly found in freshwater bodies, especially during the summer. It finds its way into the body when contaminated water and dust enter the body through the nose then up to the brain. An individual cannot be infected with N. fowleri by drinking contaminated water and it is not spread from person to person.
Individuals at risk of infection include:
- People who love swimming in warm, freshwater bodies like rivers and lakes
- Children and young adults: These individuals tend to spend a longer time in the water when swimming.
- People living in the southern states
- People who use contaminated water for nasal cleaning and irrigation.
Naegleria infection is quite rare but it is still important to be cautious especially when exposed to water. The following preventive steps can be taken to avoid infection:
- During hot weather, avoid swimming or leaping into freshwater lakes, rivers, or streams.
- If you do decide to swim in freshwater, keep your head above water as much as possible. Use nose clamps or pinch your nose with your fingers to keep it closed.
- When swimming or playing in freshwater, try not to disturb or push up the sediment.
- Always swim in pools that have been thoroughly disinfected.
If an infection is suspected, visit the doctor to get checked up. Diagnosis of infection can be made by testing the cerebrospinal spinal fluid (CSF) for the presence of the organism. CSF is the fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord. It is obtained by performing a lumbar puncture.
Imaging tests like a CT scan and MRI can also be performed to reveal structural abnormalities like swelling and bleeding in the brain.
Little information is known about the treatment of Naegleria infection due to the rarity of the disease, however, a few antifungal medicals and antibiotics have proven effective in the treatment of the infection. These drugs include anti-fungal drugs like amphotericin B and fluconazole, antibiotics like azithromycin and rifampin, also a new drug called miltefosine has shown to be effective.