Naegleria (Naegleria Fowleria: a parasite) has been given some media hype lately. Let us examine what is Naegleria Fowleri and is it something that we should be fretting about.
Naegleria Fowleri is a parasite commonly referred to as the brain-eating amoeba. It is found in soil and freshwater bodies and feeds on bacteria. The infection caused by Naegleria Fowleri has been mostly found in healthy children and young adults after they indulge in recreational water activities. These water activities can include swimming, diving, and water skiing. The infection is most likely to happen when the water is forced or splashed into the nasal cavity. Once the parasite gains access to the nasal mucosa and inhabits the area, it then travels to the central nervous system to cause the infection. The effects of this infection, along with an extensive immune response resulting from the disease, culminates in nerve damage, and also harms the tissue of the central nervous system leading to death. The parasite cannot infect the body if the contaminated water is only swallowed.
Signs and symptoms of infection usually present within two to eight days after exposure to the parasite. In some cases, the symptoms have been reported within 24 hours. The most common symptoms shown are fever, headache, chills, fear of going in well-lit areas, slight confusion to total disorientation, seizure, and increased sleepiness to coma. Typical signs of meningitis are shown, such as involuntary flexion of the knee when the neck is flexed and brought to the chin area. Abnormalities in different regions are also often shown in Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. The disease can lead to death, and only a few patients have been reported to survive the disease.
For prevention, it is vital to avoid freshwater bodies such as rivers, ponds, and lakes. These freshwater reservoirs should be avoided even more during the summer months as the temperature of the water tends to be higher. Both saltwater and chlorinated water decrease the chance of Naegleria Fowleri infection as it cannot survive such water environments. If freshwater activities have to be done, then submerging heads under the water, jumping into the water and splashing should be avoided so that the parasite does not enter the nasal cavity. Nose clips can also be used to diminish the chance of contaminated water making its way to the nose. Rinsing the nasal cavity with purified bottled water or distilled water is recommended after swimming. In case of non-availability of such water, boiled water can be used for rinsing the nasal passage.
Naegleria Fowleri has gained a lot of media attention in the past few years. Most of these hyped media reporting generated a lot of public fear. The better way to go about it is to educate people about the disease instead of making them fearful. Naegleria Fowleri infections happen very rarely. In the United States, hundreds of millions of people indulge in swimming activities each year, and there are only zero to eight infections reported per year. There have been only 34 infections reported in the United States from 2009 to 2018. Data suggests that Naegleria Fowleri is nothing to be overly worried about. However, it would still be wise to adopt preventive measures against the infection.
If you have any questions, please mention them in the comments section.
Until Next Time,
Team Doctor ASKY!