May 27, 2024

Georgia resident dies from brain-eating amoeba, according to public health dept.

A Georgia resident has died from Naegleria fowleri infection, a rare infection which destroys brain tissue, causing brain swelling and usually death. The individual was likely infected while swimming in a freshwater lake or pond in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

WHAT IS NAEQLERIA FOWLERI?

Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba (single-celled living organism) that lives in soil and warm, freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, and hot springs. Naegleria fowleri is not found in salt water, such as the ocean, and it is not found in properly treated drinking water and swimming pools.

Naegleria fowleri is commonly called the “brain-eating amoeba” because it can cause a brain infection, primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), when water containing the amoeba goes up the nose. It cannot infect people if swallowed and is not spread from person to person. Only about three people in the United States get infected each year, but these infections are usually fatal.

Prior to this newly confirmed case of Naegleria fowleri infection, there have been five other cases reported in Georgia since 1962.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection typically start with severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and progress to stiff neck, seizures, and coma that can lead to death. Symptoms usually begin about five days after infection but can start within 1 to 12 days. Once symptoms start, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about five days.

HOW CAN YOU AVOID IT?

The amoeba is naturally occurring, and there is no routine environmental test for Naegleria fowleri in bodies of water; and because it is very common in the environment, levels of the amoebas that naturally occur cannot be controlled. The location and number of amoebas in the water can vary over time within the same body of water.

Though the risk of infection is low, recreational water users should always assume there is a risk when they enter warm fresh water. If you choose to swim, you can reduce your risk of infection by limiting the amount of water that goes up the nose. Recommended precautions from the CDC include:

• Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm fresh water, especially during the summer.

• Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when in bodies of warm fresh water.

• Avoid putting your head under water in hot springs and other untreated geothermal waters.

• Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment in shallow, warm fresh water. The amoebae are more likely to live in sediment at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers.

The Georgia Department of Public Health did not reveal any personal information about the victim. It is also unknown how long after exposure death occurred. 

A 2-year-old boy in Nevada recently died of the brain-eating amoeba. It is believed he was exposed while swimming in a natural hot spring in Lincoln County. 

Click here for more information about the organism. 

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