Science & Tech

The Brain-eating Amoeba: Naegleria fowleri

South Korea reported its first case of infection from Naegleria fowleri or “brain-eating amoeba”.

Naegleria fowleri (Amoeba)

  • Amoeba is a type of cell or unicellular organism that can change shape by extending and retracting pseudopods.
  • Naegleria is a single-celled organism that is an amoeba, and only one of its species, Naegleria fowleri, can infect humans.
  • It was discovered in 1965 in Australia and is commonly found in warm freshwater bodies such as hot springs, rivers, and lakes.
  • Naegleria fowleri has been identified as the cause of PAM in over 16 countries, including India, and has been found on all continents.

How does it infect humans?

  • The amoeba enters the human body through the nose and proceeds to the brain.
  • This usually occurs when someone goes for a swim, dives, or even dips their head in a freshwater body.
  • In some cases, people became infected after cleaning their nostrils with contaminated water, vapor, or aerosol droplets.
  • When Naegleria fowleri enters the brain, it destroys brain tissues and causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a potentially fatal infection (PAM).

Symptoms of PAM

  • According to the CDC, the first signs of PAM appear one to twelve days after infection.
  • In the early stages, they may resemble meningitis symptoms such as headache, nausea, and fever.
  • A stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, and even coma can occur in the later stages.
  • The infection spreads quickly and, on average, kills within five days.

How is its spread related to climate change?

  • Because the amoeba thrives in warm freshwater bodies, the chances of contracting Naegleria fowleri infection will increase as global temperatures rise.
  • The organism grows best at temperatures of up to 46°C and can sometimes survive at even higher temperatures.
  • Several recent studies have discovered that high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have caused an increase in the temperature of lakes and rivers.
  • These conditions are more conducive to the growth of the amoeba.
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