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Rare brain infection from an amoeba: man dies after bathing
In the United States, a man died from an amoeba-related illness. He got infected when he visited a water park. It is not the first death to be associated with the "brain-eating" parasite.
Amoeba caused the deadly disease
According to a statement from the North Carolina Department of Health, NCDHHS (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services), a person has died in the United States from an amoeba-related illness. According to media reports, it was a 59-year-old man. He fell ill after swimming on July 12, 2019 in Fantasy Lake Water Park, an adventure pool in Cumberland County.
No danger when swallowing water
Laboratory tests at the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the person's disease was caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba (unicellular living organism) that is common in warm fresh water in the southern United States.
As the NCDHHS explains, the single-celled organism, known as the "brain-eating" amoeba, does not cause any disease if swallowed, but if it does get into the human organism - for example when diving, water skiing or other water sports - it can be fatal.
The protozoan penetrates into the brain, where it breaks down the brain tissue within a few days.
These rare infections usually occur when it's hot for a long time, resulting in higher water temperatures and lower water levels.
"A short, one-time contact is probably sufficient for an infection," explains the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on its website.
Symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection start with severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and lead to a stiff neck, cramps and coma.
The disease can last from a few days to several months and usually ends in death, as various case studies show.
For example, a woman in California died after bathing in the swimming pool because she caught the parasite Naegleria fowleri.
This type of amoeba was also responsible for the death of an 18-year-old girl from North Carolina. The teenage girl had become infected while swimming in the lake.
And last year there was a report of a woman who died after a supposedly harmless nasal douche because she contracted the amoeba.
Infections are rare
In North Carolina there is increasing awareness of the occurrence of Naegleria fowleri and the precautionary measures in natural waters.
"Our sympathy goes to the family and their relatives," said state epidemiologist Zack Moore, MD.
“People should be aware that this organism is found in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, and hot springs in North Carolina. So be careful when swimming or bathing. "
Naegleria fowleri infections are rare. From 1962 to 2018, only 145 people were known to be infected in the United States (between zero and eight cases per year). Five cases occurred in North Carolina during this period.
How to protect yourself
According to the NCDHHS announcement, drinking water cannot infect Naegleria fowleri. Accordingly, the amoeba does not occur in salt water.
As there is no way to remove this unicellular organism from freshwater lakes, the following precautions are recommended in warmer areas where this infection is more common:
Limit the amount of water that flows up your nose. Shut your nose, use nose clips, or keep your head afloat when you're in warm fresh water.
Avoid activities in warm fresh water at high water temperatures and low water levels.
Avoid digging or churning the sediment in shallow, warm freshwater areas. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.