Brain-Eating Ameba Infographic

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brain eating ameba facts Infographic about the freshwater, brain-eating ameba - Naegleria fowleri

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What you need to know about BRAIN-EATING AMOEBA (Naegleria fowleri)

What is it?

(Image: Illustrations of brain eating amoeba and human brain.)
Naegleria fowleri is an ameba (microscopic, single-celled organism) that thrives on bacteria in warm, freshwater lakes, rivers and springs.

Normally, it is of no concern. If, however, a person gets contaminated water forced up their nose, the amoeba can make its way to the brain where, in just a few days, it destroys tissue, causes swelling and ends in almost certain death.

How common is it?
Between 1962 and 2013, only 132 Americans are known to have gotten infected. (U.S. averages 0-8 infections annually.)

That sounds pretty rare - so how serious can it be?
Of the 132 reported cases in those 50 years, only 3 survived.

Brain eating amoeba locations... and brain eating amoeba water temperature

(Image: Illustrations of US states, outdoor thermometer and rain gauge.)
While Naegleria fowleri can survive anywhere in the U.S., it is heat-loving, so the great majority of infections have occurred in southern states. (But climate warming may change this.)

July, August and, to a lesser degree, September account for almost all cases. Low water levels brought on by drought or a heat wave are especially problematic.

Is there a treatment? What are the symptoms of of brain eating amoeba?

(Image: Illustration of brain eating amoeba symptoms checklist.)
A 2013 victim appears to have had a complete recovery, thanks to very quick diagnosis and treatment (within 36 hours) that included that the ameba-killing drug, Miltefosine, along with cooling the body below normal temperature.

Symptoms may include:

  • headache
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • nausea
  • a stiff neck
  • loss of sense of smell

4 Ways to protect ourselves!

(Image: Illustrations of person playing in water and feet in lake bottom sediment.)
You can't become infected from drinking or bathing in contaminated water. Infection can occur only if the ameba gets in your nose.

Summer outdoor water safety tips:

  1. Keep your head above warm lake or river water, or hot springs.
  2. Wear a nose plug when playing in warm freshwater.
  3. Avoid stirring-up sediment in shallow lakes or rivers.

Other safety tip:

  1. If you use a neti pot or rinse your sinuses, use only boiled, filtered, distilled or disinfected water.

My dog loves the water. Is he or she at risk?

(Image: Illustration of dog playing in water.)
Though dogs and other animals may be susceptible, reported cases are extremely rare. (Susceptibility may vary between species.) However, you'd still be wise to practice at least a reasonable degree of caution, such as:

  1. Keep pets' drinking bowl clean and change water at least twice daily. As much as possible, prevent them from drinking puddle or pond water.
  2. Dogs that struggle to swim or those with health conditions that make swimming difficult should be supervised closely.
  3. Bathe or rinse dogs after swimming to prevent skin infections.

For More Information on Naegleria fowleri and summertime water safety, visit


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Join the conversations:
Showing comment(s)
November 28, 2014
Safety Tip #4 for preventing brain eating ameba infection is an eye-opener for me. My nose seems to always be stuffy which causes me to have frequent ear infections. To prevent this, I flush my nose with a tap water and salt solution. I never realized that something as dangerous as this ameba could possibly be living in our drinking water. After reading your article, I will definitely boil my salt water before rinsing my sinuses. Thanks!
Dana at
November 10, 2014
Hi Carmen, I guess it's not entirely surprising that untreated well water might pose a risk. However, there were cases in Australian where even the public water supplies became infected with brain-eating amoeba (when little or no disinfectant like chlorine or chloramine were present). So, I agree that flushing your nose with only distilled or boiled tap water is a wise decision.
November 1, 2014
I can see how the ameba could easily go from the nose to the lungs but how can it make its way to the brain? By the way, when did the spelling change from amoeba (what I remember from school) to ameba?
Dana at
November 6, 2014
Regarding your question about the correct spelling of ameba or amoeba? Apparently ameba is the scientific community spelling while amoeba is more commonly used by the US general public:

I agree that it seems odd for something to pass from the nose to the brain but, according to Scientific American magazine, the ameba "burrows into the olfactory nerve" of the nose, which leads directly to the brain:

Regarding Jamie's comment below, that same Scientific American article address that question as well:

"It turns out that "brain eating" is actually a pretty accurate description for what the amoeba does. After reaching the olfactory bulbs, N. fowleri feasts on the tissue there using suction-cup-like structures on its surface. This destruction leads to the first symptoms -- loss of smell and taste -- about five days after the infection sets in."

Timely and appropriate treatment is critical! "From there the organisms move to the rest of the brain, first gobbling up the protective covering that surrounds the central nervous system" and then moving on to the frontal lobes (which control thing like planning and emotions). After that, the amebas could consume everything else in the brain but swelling from the body's immune response causes death before it would get that far.
October 28, 2014
Does it actually EAT the brain or is that just what it's called for shock effect?
Francis at
September 23, 2018
Unfortunately this isn't an exageration. Here is how CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta describes it: "you can imagine this little amoeba starting to crawl, literally devouring some of the tissue as it goes along, using that brain tissue as a fuel source and making its way further and further back into the brain."
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