A resident of Georgia died after being infected by the extremely rare brain-eating amoeba. According to officials, they were likely infected with the microbe while swimming in a freshwater pond or lake.
The individual, who has not yet been identified, passed away after being exposed to the amoeba, also known as Naegleria fowleri, which causes brain swelling and destruction of brain tissue. Even with treatment, the condition is usually fatal.
It’s currently not known where the individual was swimming when they got infected or when they died.
The Georgia Department of Public Health said in a news release that “Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled living organism that lives in warm, freshwater rivers, lakes, ponds, hot springs, and soil.” They also emphasized that it’s not found in salt water or in properly treated swimming pools or drinking water.
The microbe, infamously known as the “brain-eating amoeba” typically causes an infection after water containing the amoeba goes up an individual’s nose. The department also noted that it cannot spread from person to person and that it cannot cause an infection if swallowed.
In the United States, only three people contract it every year, making it extremely rare. However, those that are infected usually die as a result of the infection. Prior to this recent case, there have been five other incidents reported in Georgia since the early 1960s.
There have also been multiple cases reported in the country this year. Earlier in July, a two-year-old boy from Nevada died after being infected by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. It’s believed that the boy, who was originally from Lincoln County, Nevada, was exposed to the deadly amoeba at Ash Springs, one of the county’s natural hot springs.
In February, a Florida man also died after coming into contact with the amoeba after rinsing his sinuses with tap water.
In 2022, there were three confirmed cases of the rare brain-eating amoeba that were believed to have occurred after exposure to freshwater in Arizona, Nebraska, and Iowa. Between 2019 and 2021, three cases were also reported each year.
While the risk of infection is low, the health department warns individuals that there is always a risk of contracting the microbe when entering warm, fresh water. However, it’s possible to minimize your risk by limiting the amount of water that goes up your nose. For example, you can hold your nose shut with your fingers or use nose clips.
Symptoms of a Naegleria Fowleri Infection
Symptoms can develop anywhere from 24 hours to 14 days after exposure to the amoeba. Initial symptoms are similar to those of meningitis and can include nausea, vomiting, severe headache, and fever.
Once early symptoms set in, the condition often progresses rapidly. Later symptoms include confusion, stiff neck, loss of balance, seizures, hallucinations, and light sensitivity.
Given how rare the condition is, there are limited studies and trials on effective treatments. However, some antifungal medications may be effective when injected into the area around the spinal cord or given intravenously. Certain antibiotics may also help treat the infection.
It’s important to note, however, that the fatality rate is over 97 percent even with treatment. In fact, only four people have survived out of 157 in the United States since 1962.