How does the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri kill you?

Naegleria fowleri is a unicellular organism found primarily in warm fresh water and has the potential to cause a disease that is fatal in the vast majority of cases.

The infection that the Naegleria fowleri Amoebic causes is known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and has a mortality rate of more than 97 percent.

Fortunately, cases of this disease are extremely rare in the United States and other parts of the world where the amoeba is found. But only four out of 154 known infected people in the US from 1962 to 2021 survived, said Julia Haston, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention news week.

How does Naegleria fowleri kill people?

N.fowleri infects humans when contaminated water enters the body through the nose, which typically occurs when people swim or dive in warm, freshwater bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.

“It travels along the olfactory nerve to the brain, which is a nerve that connects the nose and the brain that controls our sense of smell,” Haston said. “Once the amoeba reaches the brain, it begins destroying brain tissue and causes a devastating infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which is usually fatal.”

Stock Photo: A 3D rendering of the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri. This amoeba can cause an infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis, which has a mortality rate of more than 97 percent.

“The amoebas … destroy brain tissue by releasing toxic molecules,” she said. “The immune system tries to fight the infection by sending immune cells and fluid to the brain. The combination of the toxic molecules and the immune response causes brain swelling and death.”

Infections caused by N.fowleri progress very rapidly, and people usually die within days of becoming ill.

“The symptoms of a N.fowleri Infections are similar to bacterial meningitis, so sometimes it goes undiagnosed at first,” Haston said. “There is no treatment proven to prevent death; However, treatment options are available.”

The fact that N FowlerBeing able to feed on brain tissue in the human body has led to it being called a “brain-eating” amoeba.

A human brain
Stock Image: A 3D rendering of the human brain. Infection with Naegleria fowleri can cause devastating damage to the human brain.

Naegleria fowleri is normally a free-living amoeba that feeds on bacteria and thrives in warm natural environments,” said Dr. Bobbi Pritt, director of the Laboratory of Clinical Parasitology at the Mayo Clinic news week. “Unfortunately, it can also feed on brain tissue and is perfectly suited to surviving and reproducing at human body temperatures.”

“People infected with N.fowleri die when parts of the brain that control vital functions like breathing are destroyed. The damage is caused by the amoebas feeding on brain tissue, as well as brain swelling associated with infection. As the brain swells, it is pushed through small openings such as the foramen magnum (the opening of the skull to the spinal canal), causing tissue death.”

Why is the mortality rate from Naegleria fowleri infection so high?

The death rate for N.fowleri Infections is very high because the amoebas multiply so quickly in the human body and destroy brain tissue so effectively.

“The infected person doesn’t have specific pre-existing defenses against the amoebas, so they can’t contain the infection themselves,” Pritt said. “In the rare cases where people survived, it was because the infection was diagnosed early, before much damage was done, and they were treated very aggressively.”

“The survivors reported to date in the United States have been treated with multiple drugs to kill the amoebas and therapeutic hypothermia (cooling the body temperature below normal levels) to reduce brain swelling.”

What are the symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection?

The first symptoms of PAM, which appear between one and nine days after infection, include a stiff neck, confusion, lack of awareness of the surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.

After the onset of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and is usually fatal between 1 and 12 days after onset.

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