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Home / Health / What are brain-eating amoebas – and how can you protect yourself?

What are brain-eating amoebas – and how can you protect yourself?



It sounds like the action of a horror movie: deadly "brain-eating" amoeba. But for a North Carolina man, this nightmare came to life in a tragic way.

After 59-year-old Eddie Gray swam in a lake in a water park in Cumberland County on July 12, he turned on an amoeba. known as Naegleria fowleri, and later died following a statement by the Department of Health and Human Services of North Carolina.

"The organism penetrates into the brain via the nose," Dr. Stan Deresinski, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. There it destroys the brain tissue and leads to brain swelling and death.

"Naegleria fowleri causes this acute, rapidly progressive and usually fatal disease," says Deresinski. "Clinically, it looks like a severe, rapidly progressing bacterial meningitis."

The symptoms of the infection begin with severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting, and can lead to a stiff neck, seizures, and coma, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

  Brain-eating amoebas, known as Naegleria fowleri, are common in warm water lakes. (Photo: Getty Images)
Brain-eating amoebas, known as Naegleria fowleri, are common in hot-water lakes. (Photo: Getty Images)

The microscopic amoeba typically occurs in warm freshwater lakes and streams (especially in southern states) and in hot springs, according to the CDC. Another potential infection risk: nasal rinsing (also called neti-pot) with contaminated tap water.

However, you can not be infected with Naegleria fowleri contaminated drinking water because your stomach acid kills it. The unicellular organism also does not occur in salt water such as the ocean. And here is one reason to keep up with the maintenance of the pool: the amoeba is not normally found in pools because it is "killed by sufficient chlorine," notes Deresinski.

It is worth noting that amoeba-borne infections are rare. According to the North Carolina Department of Health, from 1962 to 2018, there were only 145 known individuals infected with Naegleria fowleri in the United States.

How can you protect yourself anyway? It's best to keep your head away from the water as you swim in lakes and rivers. Or better yet, wear nose plugs.

"Reasonably, I would not worry about it," says Deresinksi. "But if I lived at the lake and had a child and wanted to swim this child in the lake, I would have him or her carry nose clips."

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