Brain-eating amoeba


It sounds like something out of a horror movie. Indeed, the brain-eating amoeba will get into the nose and starts to make its way up from the base of the brain all the way back to the brain stem area. So you can imagine this little amoeba starting to crawl, devouring some of the tissue as it goes along, using brain tissue as a fuel source and making its way further back into the brain. The result is a brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis which is lethal. Worldwide estimates of total cases to-date range from 235 to 300 since it was first discovered in the 1960s.

Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba, is a free-living and a single-celled living organism. N. fowleri normally eats bacteria. But when it gets into humans, it uses the brain as a food source.

Exactly where are the amoeba found?
They’re typically found in freshwater sources such as lakes and rivers. But they also can be found in hot springs, warm water runoff from industrial plants, mud puddle, poorly maintained swimming pools. The amoeba can also be found in soil.

How does it get to the brain?
The nose is the pathway of the amoeba, so infection occurs most often from diving, water skiing, or performing water sports in which water is forced into the nose. Once in the nose, the amoebas travel through the olfactory nerve (the nerve connected with sense of smell) into the frontal lobe of the brain.

What are the symptoms?
Initial symptoms, which start within the first week of infection, include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations.