What Is Naegleria fowleri, The Brain Eating Amoeba That Took The Five-Year-Old Girl's Life?

According to reports, the young girl had been under medical attention at the Institute of Maternal and Child Health, Kozhikode Medical College, since May 13, where she was put on ventilator support for a week before she passed away.

A five-year-old girl hailing from the Malappuram district in Kerala was recently reported to have succumbed to a brain infection that was caused by a bacteria called Naegleria fowleri. It is also commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba.” According to reports, the young girl had been under medical attention at the Institute of Maternal and Child Health, Kozhikode Medical College, since May 13, where she was put on ventilator support for a week before she passed away.

Reports suggest that the child likely contracted the fatal bacteria when she took a bath at the Kadalundi River near her residence on May 1 along with her relatives. This incident was followed by four other children who took bath in the Kadalundi river. They were immediately rushed to the hospital for observation, however, they were later discharged.

The inicdent took shape when the girl’s parents sought medical assistance on May 10 after she complained of headaches and persistent vomiting. She was promptly admitted to Kozhikode Medical College Hospital for specialized treatment as her condition deteriorated rapidly.

The incident brought to light another similar incident that took place in the state of Kerala last year. In the previous incident a 15-year-old lost his life to the Naegleria fowleri infection. The teenager had contracted the amoeba while swimming in a nearby stream in Alappuzha. His health had, reportedly, rapidly deteriorated. His illness was marked by a high fever and worsening vitals which eventually led to his death within a week of symptoms.

What is Brain-Eating amoeba?

Naegleria fowleri or popularly known as the brain-eating amoeba is a species of amoeba that is typically found in warm freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, unchlorinated pools, and hot springs. The bacteria is known to cause a fatal brain infection known as Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). This infection is known to be rare.

The amoeba’s mode of transmission involves its entery into the human body through the nasal passages and then migrating to the brain. However, according to the doctors, the infection cannot be contracted through drinking contaminated water.

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What are its symptoms?

Symptoms of a Naegleria fowleri infection manifest within one to seven days after an indvidua is is exposed to the amoeba. The initial symptoms of the infection include severe headaches, high fever, stiff neck, and vomiting. However, as the condition worsens, the patients have been reported to experience seizures, hallucinations, coma which ultimately leads to a fatal organ failure. According to the CDC, the fatality rate for PAM exceeds 85%, even with treatment, with most individuals succumbing to the infection within one to 18 days of symptom onset.

How to prevent?

Prevention remains paramount in combating the threat posed by the “brain-eating amoeba”. Recommendations include avoiding swimming in warm freshwater bodies, especially during periods of low water levels and elevated temperatures. Similarly, caution should be exercised when using unchlorinated water sources such as pools, splash pads, or water parks. Furthermore, individuals are advised against using tap water to clear nasal passages, particularly during warmer seasons. Employing nose clips or holding the nose shut while in warm freshwater can also mitigate the risk of infection.