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Florida man killed by rare brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri Story-level




Light micrograph of a sample of brain tissue from a case of amoebic infection by Naegleria fowleri

Scientific Photo Library

A man has died after being infected by a rare brain-eating amoeba called Naegleria fowleriFlorida health officials have said.

The anonymous man may have been infected with the amoeba after rinsing his sinuses with tap water using a neti pot, according to the Florida Department of Health. A neti pot forces water through the nose and into the sinus area. On February 23, Florida officials said the man had been infected with the amoeba and announced his death on March 2.

N.fowleri is a particularly pernicious amoeba, says Sutherland Maciver at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and co-author of a 2020 paper questioning whether the amoeba was an “emerging parasite”, meaning cases will become more common in the future.

“It enters the nostrils as we swim, and then the amoeba penetrates the cribriform plate into the brain,” says Maciver. “It’s called the Brain-Eating Amoeba, which is a creepy nickname, but a pretty defensible one.”

Maciver says that N.fowleri it is a “devastating infection for those who contract it,” with a 96 percent mortality rate. The infection is treatable, but because the symptoms are so similar to those of meningitis and infection by the parasite is so rare (as of 2020, only about 430 cases have been reported worldwide), people often they are only diagnosed during an autopsy.

If a doctor can establish that someone has a N.fowleri infection, they may try treatment with the drug miltefosine. “We’re not really sure how it works,” says Maciver. “It probably has to do with the membranes.”

N.fowleri thrives in natural bodies of warm water. “The water has to be around 30°C almost permanently before the amoeba can compete with other things in the water,” says Maciver. Cases are concentrated in the US, he says, in part because of the high concentration of specialists in the country capable of accurately diagnosing the disease. This may exaggerate the country as a hotspot for infection.

“The other hotspot is Karachi, Pakistan,” Maciver says, “because Karachi has a very poor water supply system. If you chlorinate properly, there’s no problem, and more importantly, it kills the bacteria in which water accumulates.” the amoeba feeds.”

While infections are rare, Maciver suggests against swimming in warm, open water, and particularly recommends against flushing your sinuses with water. “That’s a problem because physical violence in action can compromise the mucous membrane of the nose,” he says.


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