A deadly Brain-Eating Amoeba has been found in California

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Amoeba: An illustration of the microscopic appearance of amebic meningoencephalitis due to Naegleria fowleri. | Image by CDC/ Dr. Govinda S. Visvesvara

When anything is referred to be brain-eating, it is likely to be harmful. After all, you don’t usually pair the phrase “brain-eating” with the words “other than that, everything’s fine.”

This is true for brain-eating amoeba infections, which are thankfully uncommon but do occur on occasion. The most recent sad instance was a seven-year-old child from Tehama County, California, who died from such an illness on August 7. While swimming in Lake California, a gated community in Northern California, the child apparently picked up an amoebic parasite called Naegleria fowleria. The amoeba’s brain-eating activities landed the child in the emergency department on July 30, when he was transported to the University of California– Davis (UC Davis) Medical Center. His health deteriorated to the point that he required life support. Eventually, he died. The parasite Naegleria fowleri may enter your brain by swimming up your nose. This nasty, filthy parasite lands and begins eating. The resultant brain injury is known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). PAM is awful, and I apologize to anybody called Pam. The membranes that wrap around your brain are known as meninges. When you need additional letters to express “brain,” the prefix “encephalo-” is utilized. Inflammation is denoted by the suffix “-itis.” As a result, PAM is basically amoeba-caused widespread brain inflammation.

The problem is that these infections are difficult to detect early on. Amoebas are very tiny and do not communicate. When they enter your brain, they make no noise. You may not have any symptoms for the first one to nine days of the illness. Fever, nausea, vomiting, and a severe headache at the front of your head are all possible symptoms. Of all, even if you have a terrible headache, a brain-eating amoeba is unlikely to be the first thing that comes to mind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to this as Stage One. So, although other therapies are being used, physicians may not be giving miltefosine, a medication that may really kill the amoeba, or causing hypothermia, which involves decreasing the body temperature to decrease brain swelling. This basically leaves the amoeba in your brain, eating away quietly and inflicting more and more harm.

When something is eating away at your brain, time is clearly brain tissue. And your brain is very essential. Delays in identification and treatment are most likely to blame for the poor survival rates associated with Naegleria fowleri infections. PAM is usually deadly within 18 days after the onset of symptoms. According to research published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, just four individuals out of 145 recorded cases of PAM in the United States survived between 1962 and 2018. In fact, death occurred in half of the cases within five days after the onset of symptoms. Those are awful odds.

Hearing this may urge you to put duct tape over your nose to prevent anything from getting up there. Don’t do that since being able to breathe is essential. Fortunately, unlike pollen or the Covid-19 coronavirus, the amoeba does not float in the air. Instead, the amoeba prefers soil and warmer freshwater, such as that found in lakes, rivers, hot springs, swimming pools, water heaters, and industrial facilities.

Symptoms grow more severe as the illness progresses to the second stage. A stiff neck, convulsions, changed mental state, hallucinations, or coma may all occur. Even if you have more severe symptoms, it may be difficult to determine what is wrong since a disease like this may be readily misdiagnosed as a more frequent issue like bacterial meningitis. Again, “do you believe you have a brain-eating amoeba?” is not a typical question.

Another reason why putting dirt up your nose is a terrible idea. You also don’t want to be submerged in industrial facility water tanks. Neti pots, or any activity in which you pour tap water up your nose, may also be a cause of amebic infections. Swimming in a natural body of water or a badly chlorinated pool may also enable the amoeba to enter your nose.

You may be wondering why there haven’t been more than 145 instances of PAM throughout the years. Swimming in ponds, lakes, and rivers is, after all, a very popular pastime. Most individuals seem to engage in these activities without being infected with Naegleria fowleri. As a result, there must be some combination of circumstances that occur to make some individuals more vulnerable.

There are some times and locations when such an infection is more prone to occur. Doing the Polar Bear Plunge in Alaska, for example, is unlikely to endanger you. Because Naegleria fowleri prefers warmer water, the majority of illnesses have occurred during the summer in the 15 southernmost states of the United States. According to the CDC, more than half of the cases have occurred in Texas and Florida. You may decrease your risk of infection by holding or plugging your nose when swimming, particularly while diving, when water is more likely to flow up your nose. Of course, you should not use dirt to obstruct your nose, since this would undermine the objective.

The presence of Naegleria fowleri in any condition is undesirable. A sighting in Northern California is a particularly terrible omen. Infections have lately appeared in additional Northern states, according to a study in the Journal of Infectious Disease. Climate change is one potential explanation. Yes, climate change seems to be warming things up, which may enable the Naegleria fowleri to spread its range farther.

Who would have guessed that turning the Earth into a massive hot pocket by spewing pollutants into the atmosphere would have such a wide range of consequences? Perhaps you can add a brain-eating amoeba to the list of reasons to do more to avoid climate change. That is if you agree that brain-eating is terrible.

Jano le Roux | Contributed

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