South Korea has reported its first death from a “brain-eating amoeba” after a 50-year-old man passed away from the rare disease after returning from Thailand.
The man died due to the infection of Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the “brain-eating amoeba.” The death was reported Monday, according to WionNews.
The single-celled organism responsible for the infection is found in warm freshwater bodies like lakes, rivers, and hot springs, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is absent in salt or brackish water.
The mode of transmission of the amoeba is through infected water. The water contaminated by the amoeba enters the body and the organism travels up the nose to reach the brain. This is more likely to happen when one goes swimming, diving, or dunking head in infected water.
Once it reaches the brain cavity, the amoeba attacks the brain tissue, destroying it in the process. This leads to a rare and usually fatal infection called Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
The brain-eating amoeba can also enter the body when one rinses the nose to clear the sinus using Naegleria fowleri-contaminated water. In very rare cases, people have been infected by the microbe from pool water and water parks that are chlorine-free.
Interestingly, the amoeba was first discovered in the United States in 1937. Between 2012-2021, the U.S., on average, detected zero to five cases annually. Worldwide, 381 cases had been reported, mainly from the United States, India and Thailand, till 2018.
Perhaps the most comforting fact about the disease is that it is non-communicable. In other words, it cannot be passed on from one person to the other.
Worryingly, young boys of ages 14 years or younger are the most vulnerable to this disease. The CDC attributes this to the age group’s penchant for activities that make it vulnerable to the organism.
Symptoms usually start five days after infection and include fever, nausea, and vomiting. At the later stage of infection, symptoms such as a stiff neck, confusion, attention deficit, seizures, hallucinations, and coma may emerge. Essentially, the organism causes swelling in the brain and ultimately, death.
According to the CDC, the infection is fatal in almost 97 percent of cases.
Due to the rare occurrence and rapid progression of the disease, there is no treatment available for it currently.
Though this infection is rare, it may not remain that way with the increasing global temperatures on account of global warming. After all, Naegleria fowleri is a heat-loving microbe and thrives in warmer temperatures.