Healthcare News & Insights

Brain-eating amoebas claim fourth U.S. victim

A fourth person appears to have died from infection with the so-called “brain-eating amoeba” this summer.

The bug, known as Naegleria fowleri, is rare but causes an almost-always deadly infection once it makes its way into a person’s nose. Victims usually are exposed to the amoeba while swimming in warm bodies of fresh water such as lakes and rivers.

About 120 cases — all but one of them fatal — have been identified since the ’60s. This year, three confirmed deaths are due to Naegleria infection. The fourth and most recent case has tested positive for the amoeba, but more tests are pending.

Three of the victims, from Florida, Kansas and Virginia are believed to have contracted the infection while swimming. A fourth person, in Louisiana, is believed to have been infected when he used unsterilized tap water in his neti pot to clean out his sinuses. The home’s water system housed the amoebas.

Naegleria flourishes in warm, stagnant water and enters through the victim’s nose where it eventually eats away at the victim’s brain, usually causing meningitis. Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, a stiff neck, poor balance, seizures and hallucinations.

Officials from the CDC reminded people to avoid swimming in fresh water ponds, creeks, etc., and to hold their noses closed if they do swim in such places. Properly maintained pools and hot tubs, as well as the ocean, don’t pose a risk.

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