Beware of Brain-Eating Amoebas

Add brain-eating amoebas to the top of your list of greatest fears because they are possibly the most dangerous. These parasites are very relevant to our current chapter on the kingdom Protista. The amoebas enter through the nose and consume brain tissue. If someone is infected, it is nearly always fatal. Basically you can be a happy kid swimming in a lake, splashing around, having a good time, and five days later you may be dead. While this disease is rare, its location is spreading away from just warm areas. In fact, there have been recent cases in Kansas. Beware of brain-eating amoebas while hanging out at your local lake. Millions of people swim in lakes containing these amoebas every year and do not become ill. However, they can infect anyone and have the most tragic consequences.

This form of parasitic meningitis (primary amebic meningoencephalitis) is caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri. This amoeba, which is a part of the class called protozoan, is an organism that normally feeds on bacteria and lives in the sedimentary layer of warm lakes and ponds. Under certain conditions, they can develop flagella which enable it to rapidly move around and look for more favorable conditions. When people swim in warm lakes during the summer, contaminated water can be forced up the nose and the amoeba can enter the brain. The disease causes headache, stiff neck, and vomiting which eventually progresses to even worse symptoms. Generally, it results in a coma and finally death after around five days. As you can see, this is a fast acting disease with little chance of survival.

Since 1962, there have been 128 cases and only one survivor. He was treated with antibiotics which is a method that has been unsuccessful since. There is a current case involving a twelve year old girl and a water park that appears will end with a second survivor. She was infected by the amoeba after swimming in a lake inside of a water park in Arkansas. After being hospitalized for a month, she has been moved out of the intensive care unit. It appears that you need a whole lot of luck if you plan of surviving an infection by this parasite. The odds of a person surviving are not very high, but the odds of not getting the parasite to begin with are extremely high. These odds aren’t changing either. What is changing is the fact that cases are appearing in places like Minnesota, Indiana, and Kansas. The amoeba is moving north away from the usual warm weather states.

Although the amoeba must enter through the nose to cause damage, it makes people nervous to even touch contaminated water. There was a case in Louisiana where Naegleria fowleri was found in the water supply. People refuse to drink the water and the sales for bottle water have sky rocketed. Chlorine, boiling, and stomach acids are all enough to kill this amoeba. The best thing you can do to protect yourself against this disease is to wear a nose plug when you swim in lakes or ponds. At the very least, be weary of putting your head under dirty water. It is a very rare disease so one shouldn’t reschedule fun trips to the lake by any means, but it is important to be cautious. Naegleria fowleri exists in Kansas, and it can kill you. Good luck!

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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