Florida Health Officials have confirmed a case of a rare brain-eating amoeba infection in a man in Hillsborough County, Florida, on July 3.
The patient was infected with Naegleria fowleri, a water-borne amoeba that destroys brain cells and causes a fatal condition called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). This amoeba is commonly found in freshwater bodies like lakes, rivers, ponds, and canals, said the Hillsborough County health officials in a statement.
“Infections can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM,” said the officials.
The possibility of infection rises in higher temperatures when the water temperature is higher while the water level is lower. The peak season for infections happens in July, August, and September.
“Naegleria fowleri is found in many warm freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers in the United States, but is more common in southern states,” said the health officials.
However it remains to be a rare disease, and according to the CDC, from 1962 to 2018, the country has seen a total of 145 cases of PAM infections with only four cases of survival. These cases have happened in 15 southern-tier states with more than 50 percent reported from Texas and Florida alone.
“The low number of infections makes it difficult to know why a few people have been infected compared to the millions of other people that used the same or similar waters across the U.S.,” said the county health officials.
After infecting the brain, the amoeba causes extensive inflammation, hemorrhage, and necrosis, leading to death in 3 to 7 days, according to the Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases (CDIPO), a UC San Diego based research body supported by the National Institue of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Authorities have asked people to avoid nasal contact with water.
“Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs and thermally polluted water such as water around power plants,” said the Hillsborough County health officials, adding that avoidance should particularly happen during times of high temperatures and low water levels.
People are advised to avoid digging in sediment while taking part in activities in shallow, warm freshwaters.
“Please note exposure to the amoeba may also occur when using neti pots to rinse your sinuses of cold/allergy-related congestion or conducting religious rituals with tap water. Use only boiled and cooled, distilled, or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions,” noted the health officials.
Symptoms of the infection are headache, fever, nausea, disorientation, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, loss of balance, or hallucinations and they can happen after exposure to the microorganism from swimming.
“It is essential to seek medical attention right away, as the disease progresses rapidly after the start of symptoms,” said the officials.
CDIPO said optimum treatment for PAM has not been well defined yet.
“Recently, investigational breast cancer and anti-Leishmania drug, miltefosine, has shown some promise in combination with other drugs, and a patient was successfully treated with miltefosine and hypothermia. But another patient, though treated with miltefosine, suffered permanent brain damage. Therefore, fast-acting and efficient drugs are urgently needed for the treatment of PAM,” said CDIPO.