Science & Technology
'Brain-eating' amoeba is an elusive killer
By T.K. Randall
July 30, 2019 · 5 comments
A very rare, microscopic killer can be lurking in the water. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Todd Petrie
A man in North Carolina has become the latest victim of a rare, yet highly deadly type of waterborne microbe.
59-year-old Eddie Gray had been swimming in a man-made lake near Fayetteville when he unknowingly encountered a microscopic assailant that, within just ten days, had killed him.
Despite its name however, the brain-eating amoeba - or Naegleria fowleri
- doesn't actually eat brains.
It typically enters a person's body through the nose, then makes its way up the olfactory nerve. When the host's immune system reacts to the intruder, the brain swells up - resulting in death.
While the chances of this happening to you are extremely low, those unfortunate enough to become infected by the microbe have less than a 3% chance of survival.
Cases include that of a 4-year-old boy who died after going swimming near New Orleans, as well as that of a 20-year-old man who died after rinsing out his sinuses with a pot he filled up at the sink.
The contaminated water system was later flushed out and has since been closely monitored.
"What's concerning people," said microbiologist Charles Gerba, "is that with global warming, the water is warming up, and people are expecting to see more cases."
Fortunately though the chances of becoming infected by Naegleria fowleri
are still infinitesimally small and simple precautions - such as purifying water before washing out your sinuses - can go a long way.
It's also worth being cautious about swimming in untreated bodies of open water.
"Every time you swim in natural waters, you're at an increased risk of getting ill," said Gerba. "People think, Oh, it's so natural; it's so fresh, and I go, 'Yeah, all the birds pooped in it this morning.'"
Source: The Atlantic
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