Spike in Brain-Eating Amoeba Cases Reported

Posted on September 29, 2007

KPHO Phoenix has a developing story about a local boy who was killed by a deadly amoeba he is believed to have picked up while swimming in Lake Havasu.
A 14-year-old Lake Havasu boy has become the sixth victim to die nationwide this year of a microscopic organism that attacks the body through the nasal cavity, quickly eating its way to the brain.

Aaron Evans died Sept. 17 of Naegleria fowleri, an organism doctors said he probably picked up a week before while swimming in the balmy shallows of Lake Havasu.

According to the Centers For Disease Control, Naegleria infected 23 people from 1995 to 2004. This year health officials said they've noticed a spike in cases, with six Naegleria-related cases so far -- all of them fatal.

Such attacks are extremely rare, though some health officials have put their communities on high alert, telling people to stay away from warm, standing water.
The article says the amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri lives in lake bottoms where it doesn't usually come into contact with people. However, if the dirt at the bottom of the lake is stirred up and water gets up someone's nose they may obtain the unwanted amoeba as well. Once inside a human the amoeba latches onto the olfactory nerve and follows it up into the human's brain. Syptoms begin with headaches and fevers and end with hallucinations and death. The amoeba can kill a victim is as little as two weeks.
People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers, Beach said. In the later stages, they'll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes.

Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have been effective stopping the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been attacked rarely survive, Beach said.
The CDC's fact sheet on Naegleria fowleri says in the past cases have been very rare - only 23 reported cases in people from 1995 to 2004. It doesn't take many cases to get above that small average of 2-3 cases per year. There have already been six deaths this year. The bad news is the amoeba likes heat so as global warming increases our temperatures there will more frequent human encounters with the killer amoeba.