AUG 22, 2016 11:21 AM PDT

Diagnosed: Fourth Patient Infected with Brain-Eating Amoeba

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Summer is prime time for activities on the river. But a swim in the river turned into a life-threatening event for a Florida patient, who was infected with a brain-eating amoeba from the river. This marks the fourth case of the year with foreboding statistics, as all three previous cases have been fatal. However, doctors are optimistic that timely diagnosis and administration of an anti-parasitic drug could make the difference for the current Florida patient.

How a tiny amoeba can destroy the brain | Image: wikimedia
Swimming in the warm freshwaters of lakes and rivers are single-celled organisms of the species Naegleria fowleri. These amoebas are microscopic and imperceptible to the human eye. In infected waters, the amoeba swims up the person’s nose and make its home in the brain, where it starts to destroy brain tissue. Of note, you can’t get infected by swallowing water with the amoeba.

"We believe that the individual contracted the infection after swimming in unsanitary water on a single private property," said Mara Gambineri, the communications director for Florida Department of Health. She notes that this is an isolated incident that poses no risks to the general public.

Symptoms of the infection typically begin within a few days up to around a week. Often mistaken for meningitis, the symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting. However, as more brain tissues are destroyed, the patient will suffer from seizures and hallucinations.

Unfortunately, primary amebic meningoencephalitis is usually fatal; patients usually die within 3 weeks of the diagnosis. Of the 138 cases of N. fowleri infections between 1962 and 2015, only three people have survived – a fatality rate of 97.8 percent.
 

But, three people did survive, and from one such case in 2013, the treatment plan has been adopted into a treatment regimen for N. fowleri infections. Known as the Hardig protocol for Kali Hardig, the 12-year-old who contracted the amoeba, doctors prescribed a combination of anti-fungal medications and an experimental drug called miltefosine (Impavido). In addition, they also induced a coma and lowered her body temperature while the drugs were taking effect.

Doctors hope the success of this case will also carry forward for the current Florida patient, who has already been promptly treated with miltefosine. "This is the most optimistic, cautiously optimistic, I've been so far as compared to other cases because of how fast [the patient was] diagnosed and how quickly treated in combination with other drugs," said Todd MacLaughlan, CEO of Profounda, the makers of miltefosine.

It is important to reiterate that cases of the brain-eating amoeba are very rare. The CDC estimates 4 to 8 cases of N. fowleri infections per year. By comparison, the CDC reports an average of 3,536 drownings annually (about 10 deaths per day). Still, even with a low risk for infections, health experts caution to prevent water entering the nose when swimming.

Additional sources: CNN news
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
APR 02, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Diagnosing Antisocial Personality Disorder
APR 02, 2020
Diagnosing Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial personality disorder (APD), a mental disorder, is sometimes referred to as sociopathy. Persons with the disor ...
APR 04, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
AI Finds New Predictive Markers of Covid-19 Severity
APR 04, 2020
AI Finds New Predictive Markers of Covid-19 Severity
Researchers and healthcare organizations are putting their heads together to consider how technology could ease the ever ...
APR 21, 2020
Immunology
Sino Biological Focuses on Serological Studies of COVID-19
APR 21, 2020
Sino Biological Focuses on Serological Studies of COVID-19
April 17, 2020, Sino Biological announced this week that the company launched the world’s first coronavirus antige ...
MAY 04, 2020
Immunology
GeoVax and Sino Bio Collaborate on COVID-19 Vaccine Work
MAY 04, 2020
GeoVax and Sino Bio Collaborate on COVID-19 Vaccine Work
GeoVax Labs, Inc., a biotechnology company developing human vaccines and immunotherapies against infectious diseases and ...
MAY 14, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
New Tech Has Its AI on Brain Tumors
MAY 14, 2020
New Tech Has Its AI on Brain Tumors
  A collaboration across 29 research and healthcare agencies is putting together the world’s largest brain tu ...
JUL 07, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Throat Swabs Prevent COVID False Negatives
JUL 07, 2020
Throat Swabs Prevent COVID False Negatives
  False-negative results are particularly problematic in containing the spread of COVID-19 — infected individ ...
Loading Comments...