Brain-Eating Ameba Infographic

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AtlantaHealth.com Infographic about the freshwater, brain-eating ameba - Naegleria fowleri

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

What is it?

(Image: Illustrations of ameba 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.

Where is it most common... and when?

(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?

(Image: Illustration of 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.

Early 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 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 www.AtlantaHealth.com

Sources:
http://www.cdc.gov/dpdx/freeLivingAmebic/gallery.html#nfowltrophs
http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/naegleria_factsheet508c.pdf
http://accuweather.com/en/weather-news/brain-eatingamoebacaselinkedto/15985705
http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/graphs.html#casereports
http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/treatment.html
http://new.dhh.louisiana.gov/assets/oph/Center-PHCH/Center-CH/infectious-epi/EpiManual/NaegleriaFowleriInAnimalsManual.pdf

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Join the conversations:
Showing comment(s)
Carmen
November 28, 2014
#4 under your Safety Tips 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!
Benjamin
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 AtlantaHealth.com
November 6, 2014
Regarding your question about the spelling, Benjamin, from what I can find, amoeba may be the latin spelling, while in the US, ameba is more common: http://dictionary.reverso.net/english-definition/ameba

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: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-happens-when-an-amoeba-eats-your-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."

Baring timely and appropriate treatment, "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.
Jamie
October 28, 2014
Does it actually EAT the brain or is that just what it's called for shock effect?
 
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