What Is Naegleria Fowleri? The Deadly Brain-Eating Amoeba Infection Reported In Korea: Symptoms, Causes, And More!
Naegleria Fowleri, an extremely lethal and rare brain-eating infection causing amoeba, has been identified in South Korea. This amoeba is known to be found in warm freshwater and soil. Getting in contact with this infectious organism can cause a rare and severe infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported that the infected individual in his 50s has died and the man had come back to Korea after a four-month trip in Thailand.
Fortunately, human-to-human transmission of this infection is not possible, but to prevent this disease from spreading like wildfire, the KDCA has advised people to avoid water activities in freshwater lakes.
Precaution is crucial when engaging in water sports, suggested the KDCA.Using nose clips or holding your nose shut when participating in water activities to prevent water from entering through the nose is also advised
What is Naegleria?
The free-living amoeba (a single-celled living organism) called Naegleria is so small that it can only be seen with a microscope.
Commonly found in warm freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, hot springs, and soil, the only species of Naegleria that infects people is Naegleria fowleri.
Naegleria fowleri: How can it infect you?
Naegleria fowleri can infect you by entering your body through your nose if you are in contact with the water containing the ameba.
- This typically happens if you're going swimming, diving, or when you put your head under fresh water, like in lakes and rivers.
- This gives the amoeba an opportunity to travel up your nose and then to the brain.
- The deadly amoeba destroys your brain tissue and causes a devastating infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). PAM is almost always fatal.
- Naegleria fowleri infections may also occur when you use contaminated tap water to cleanse your nose.
- Now it can be during religious practices or while rinsing your sinuses (sending water up the nose).
- Though it is extremely rare, you can also get Naegleria fowleri infections from recreational water if it doesn't have enough chlorine in it. Places such as pools, splash pads, or surf parks can be a carrier of this infectious amoeba.
Water Vapour and Drinking Water:
- There is no evidence yet that there are chances for Naegleria fowleri to spread through water vapor or aerosol droplets, such as shower mist or vapor from a humidifier.
- You won't be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water.
Naegleria fowleri: Where is it found?
The deadly amoeba Naegleria fowleri lives in warm fresh water and soil around the world and can be present in any freshwater body especially during the warmer months as it is a heat-loving (thermophilic) organism.
Naegleria fowleri thrives in heat and likes warm water because it grows rapidly at high temperatures which can go up to 115°F (46°C). They can survive for short periods at higher temperatures.
As per the tests conducted by scientists the water temperatures from lakes and rivers are linked to some PAM cases, where the temperatures have been higher than 80°F.
However, it is possible that they may live in water with a temperature below 80°F.
The amoeba can be found in:
- Warm fresh water, such as lakes and rivers
- Geothermal (naturally hot) water, such as hot springs
- Warm water discharge from industrial or power plants
- Untreated geothermal (naturally hot) drinking water sources
- Swimming pools, splash pads, surf parks, or other recreational venues that are poorly maintained or don’t have enough chlorine in them
- Tap water
- Water heaters
- Soil, including sediment at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Naegleria fowleri cannot be found in salt water, like the ocean or sea.
Naegleria fowleri: Symptoms
Naegleria fowleri leads to PAM which is a brain infection that destroys the brain tissue.
The early symptoms of PAM may be similar to the symptoms of bacterial meningitis which usually start about 5 days after infection, though they can also start within 1 to 12 days.
Symptoms may include:
- or vomiting.
More severe symptoms can include
- Stiff neck,
- Lack of attention to people and surroundings,
- and coma.
Subsequently, as the symptoms begin, the disease can progress rapidly, usually causing death within about 5 days. However,death can happen within 1 to 18 days too.
Naegleria fowleri: Available Treatment
Since PAM is so rare, and the infection progresses so quickly, it has been challenging to find effective treatments for it.
Though there is some evidence that certain drugs may be effective, scientists are still learning about the most adequate drugs to treat these deadly infections.
Currently, PAM is treated with a combination of drugs that are known to be most effective. They often include:
- amphotericin B,
Miltefosine is the most recent of these drugs which have shown to kill Naegleria fowleri in the laboratory and have been used to treat three survivors so far.
Naegleria fowleri: Prevention
Personal actions can be taken to reduce the risk of Naegleria fowleri infection which includes, preventing water from going up the nose.
The water should not be contaminated while doing certain practices in certain situations which include the following
- Swimming Precautions
- Sinus Rinsing For Health or Religious Practice
- Ritual Nasal Rinsing & Ablution
- Public Drinking Water Systems
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, globally there are between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of this disease each year.