A rare brain-eating amoeba appears to be spreading further across the US
A rare brain-eating amoeba appears to be spreading further across the US, infecting people in states where it is not normally found.
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba – a single-celled organism that moves by crawling – that lives in freshwater lakes, rivers and hot springs along with other species Naegleria. It differs from the other harmless species, however, in that given the chance it will eat your brains.
It’s Fowler’s the only species of naegleria that can infect humans, mostly at higher temperatures where it thrives, in shallow bodies of water. Infections (although incredibly rare) usually occur when people put their heads under water, and the amoeba travels up the nose and into the brain, where it causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a disease that is “almost always fatal” in 97 percent, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Once in the brain, it begins to destroy brain tissue, producing similar symptoms – such as headache, fever, stiff neck and confusion – to bacterial meningitis. In patients, there is also a lack of attention to the environment, seizures and coma, and the disease usually causes death within five days of the onset of symptoms. Of the 154 people known to have been infected with the amoeba since 1962, only four survived.
Infections are fortunately incredibly rare, with only 31 reported infections over the last decade. However, the areas where the amoeba has been found (and infected people) continue to spread across the US as temperatures increase.
One study, which looked at recorded cases of PAM, as well as temperature information for the area where the infection arose, comparing that temperature with historical data for the same area 20 years ago.
“We observed an increase in air temperature in the 2 weeks prior to exposure compared to the 20-year historical average,” the team wrote in a report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“The increase in cases in the Midwest region after 2010 and the increase in maximum and mean latitudes of exposure to PAM cases suggest a northward expansion of N. fowleri exposure associated with lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers, streams, and open water bodies in the United States.”
The CDC has not yet released official data for 2022, but as The insider points out, cases appear to be creeping further north, with the first fatal case detected in Iowa Lake. It was the same in Nebraska, where a child died of a disease that tends to be contagious those 14 years of age or youngerprobably due to increased exposure to amoeba through water play.
“Our regions are getting warmer,” the Douglas County health director said Dr. Lindsey Huse said at a press conference following the death of a child in Nebraska.
“As things warm up, the water warms up and the water levels drop because of the drought, you see this organism is much happier and typically grows in those situations.”
As the climate crisis continues, the spread of disease further north is likely to continue.
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