Freshwater lakes and rivers across America may harbor a deadly parasite this summer that eats away at the brain quickly – and experts warn that if it gets in your nose, it has a 97% chance of being deadly , often within five days of experiencing symptoms.
Naegleria fowleri lives in fresh waters around the world. It thrives in warmer temperatures of around 115 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually causes cases to appear during the summer months. This means that the lakes and rivers around America are at risk of carrying dangerous organisms. Even splash parks could pose a risk: A three-year-old child in Texas died after being exposed to it at a local splash park last year.
Contaminated water ingested through the nose gives the amoeba a direct route to the brain, where it is almost always fatal, but swallowing contaminated water causes no harm because the stomach acid is strong enough to kill bacteria , a parasitic disease expert told DailyMail.com.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 154 known cases of infection over the past 60 years – almost all of them in southern states that reach scorching temperatures during the summer. All but four of those cases have resulted in death – a survival rate of just three percent. Those cases are clustered in Texas and Florida in particular, which have recorded 40 and 36 infections, respectively, since 1962, when the CDC began tracking cases.
Two cases have already been detected this year, including a Missouri man who died after being infected in an Iowa lake, and a Florida teenager who fought for his life after swimming in a local river.
Once a person is exposed to the amoeba, they will likely experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea and fatigue within one to nine days. Once symptoms appear, death almost always occurs within five days.
Dr. Anjan Debnath, a parasitic disease expert at the University of California, San Diego, tells DailyMail.com that due to its rarity, doctors often misdiagnose the symptoms as meningitis, which wastes time. valuable that could be used to treat the parasite.
Cases aren’t just for lakes and rivers either. Improper water treatment in swimming pools, private ponds, and even tap water can also lead to fatal exposure to the amoeba, causing several deaths in children in recent years.
Debnath, a parasitic disease expert at the University of California, San Diego, said the amoeba thrives in temperatures around 115 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it will be most active on the hottest days of summer in states where high temperatures are not uncommon.
He explained that it enters through the olfactory nerve in the nose, giving it a short, direct route into the brain. If water containing the amoeba gets into the nose, it will likely lead to infection.
Ingestion of water by mouth is acceptable, as the stomach acid is strong enough to kill the amoeba.
Once a person’s olfactory nerve is exposed, it can take around one to nine days for them to start experiencing symptoms. They usually die within five days of the first symptoms appearing.
Dr Anjan Debnath (pictured), a parasitic disease expert at the University of California, San Diego, told DailyMail.com that people should avoid swimming in freshwater lakes and rivers this summer, and if they do, they should use a nose plug to stop water from entering
“It’s quite fast, it’s very progressive. It literally eats brain tissue,” Debnath explained.
He describes the infection as taking place in two stages. The first is relatively minor, the person suffering from headaches and other flu-like symptoms. This means that unless a doctor knows that a person has been swimming in untreated water, they may not even suspect the amoeba.
Once the symptoms reach the second stage, a person will begin to experience serious neurological issues like seizures. A doctor will then likely discover the infection through a cerebrospinal fluid test.
At this point, a person has probably already experienced symptoms so severe that death is almost guaranteed.
A similar situation occurred with 13-year-old Caleb Ziegelbauer of Port Charlotte, Florida.
The teenager was swimming in a river near his home on July 1 for a family outing to escape the Florida heat. When he was sick, doctors first diagnosed him with meningitis, which delayed the time it took for him to be treated for the infection.
Five days later, a fever hit Caleb and he complained of hallucinations. His parents rushed him to Fort Myers Hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with meningitis in the pediatric intensive care unit.
“Unfortunately, it appears that the amoeba Naegleria fowleri is responsible for his illness,” Katie Chiet, the boy’s aunt, said on her crowdfunding page.
More than a week after he entered the hospital, doctors finally realized he was suffering from the 97% deadly parasite.
“They plan to re-intubate him to take some breathing pressure off him so he can just focus on resting and healing his brain,” Elizabeth Ziegelbauer wrote on GoFundme.
The inflammation in his brain gradually worsened. Normally the parasite kills its host within 17 days, but Caleb survived 11 days after that.
Caleb Ziegelbauer (pictured), 13, from Port Charlotte, Florida, is currently fighting for his life in hospital after suffering a brain infection from eating amoebas
Ziegelbauer is the second confirmed case of brain eating amoeba causing infection in the United States this year.
Earlier this month, an unnamed Missouri man was infected while swimming in the lake at Lake Three Fires State Park in Iowa. In response, health officials closed the beach.
While such cases are rare, with less than three being detected per year on average, Debnath still advises against swimming in untreated water during the summer, especially in places like Florida and Texas where temperatures get unusually hot. high.
Because the amoeba resides only in fresh water, swimming in the ocean is generally safe.
If families choose to visit a freshwater beach, anyone entering the water should wear a nose clip to prevent water from entering their nose.
Debnath also recommends not lifting dirt or sand from the bottom of the lake, as the warmer areas at depth are where the microscopic beings are usually found.
Cases aren’t always spawned by freshwater lakes and rivers either. In 2020, a six-year-old boy in Texas died after being exposed to the water supply in his hometown of Lake Jackson.
Last year, a three-year-old child in the state died after being exposed to brain eating amoebas at a water park. His family later sued for negligence, claiming the operators should have cleaned up the water better.
A North Carolina child, whose age has not been revealed, died last year after being exposed to an improperly sanitized private pond.
Debnath said these cases could have been prevented with proper chlorination and sanitization of sitting water alone.
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