Naegleria Infection

What is Naegleria Infection?

Naegleria Infection is usually fatal and is very rare. It is a brain infection that is caused by a microorganism called Naegleria fowleri amoeba (also called “˜brain-eating amoeba’), which can be found in hot springs and freshwater rivers and likes.

People who get the naegleria infection usually die within a period that goes from  a week to twelve days. Although millions of people are exposed to the amoeba that causes the infection, few get sick from it.

In the United States, the amoeba is more commonly present in freshwater basins in the southern states and spreads during warm periods. It can also be found in poorly maintained pools, water heaters and usually enters the body through the nose. Drinking contaminated water (in lakes or swimming pools) rarely leads to an infection, although it might occur. The infection cannot be passed from one person to another.

What are the Symptoms of Naegleria Infection?

Amebic meningoencephalitis is caused by the naegleria infection and this results in destruction of brain tissue and brain inflammation. Within 2-15 days of being exposed to the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, one will have several symptoms.

These symptoms can include severe headaches that come on suddenly and fever. They may have a sudden change in taste smell. Stiff neck, vomiting or nausea, loss of balance, confusion, seizures, sleepiness, and hallucinations are other symptoms that might be experienced. The symptoms often progress quickly.

Naegleria Infection Causes

The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is responsible for causing the Naegleria infection. The amoeba is generally found in fresh water and is usually only present during the warm months of spring and summer, though it can also thrive in soil. People become infected when the Naegleria fowleri amoeba gains access through the nostrils via water or dust. From there, they use the nerves that transmit the sense of smell to get from the nose to the brain.

While millions of people are exposed to the Naegleria virus every year, only a small number of people actually get sick. The reason for that discrepancy still isn’t known. We do know that the virus isn’t passed from person to person, nor is it contracted by drinking contaminated water. Properly treated swimming pools don’t contain the Naegleria fowleri amoeba – only bodies of natural fresh water can support the amoeba.

How is Naegleria Infection Treated?

Early treatment and diagnosis are essential if one contracts naegleria infection. With quick diagnosis and treatment, death is not likely. The main treatment that is used is an antifungal drug called amphotericin B. It is injected into the space around the spinal cord or directly into the veins to kill the amoebas.

Another drug has become available only through the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and it is called miltefosine (Impavido). It is an experimental drug that, when combined with other medications and used aggressively, is showing potential for improved survival rates.

Naegleria Infection Prevention

Even when swimming in waters prime for the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, submerging oneself or swallowing fresh water will not cause the infection. It only occurs when the water is inhaled through the nostrils, so proper breathing techniques can prevent the occurrence of Naegleria infection in most cases. Additionally, the Naegleria fowleri amoeba is primarily found in waters of the southern United States, but that’s not to say the amoeba can’t thrive in fresh water elsewhere. Recent discoveries have uncovered the amoeba as far north as Minnesota.

Studies have sought to discover the concentration of Naegleria fowleri amoebas in bodies of fresh water, based on the assumption that larger quantities pose an equally larger risk. Unfortunately, research has been unsuccessful in this area, preventing public health officials from establishing guidelines for prevention. Yet, infection remains low with only 40 reported cases in the past 10 years, which is insignificant when compared to the hundreds of thousands of recreational swimmers exposed to fresh water each year.

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Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
January 24, 2018