Brain-eating amoeba kills three people

August 18, 2011

It is a rare problem; a so-called "brain-eating" amoeba that has claimed the lives of two children and one young man from the south, however it is not likely to happen in our area.

The potential microscopic killer is an amoeba, called naegleria Fowleri. It lives in fresh water like ponds and streams.

It thrives when water levels are very low and temperatures are high in the upper 80s, such as in the south.

In August, the infection is blamed for the death of 16-year-old Courtney Nash, who died after she'd gone swimming in a Florida river.

It also killed 9-year-old Christian Strickland, who'd been dunked at a fishing day camp in Virginia.

It can cause a headache, high fever, flu-like symptoms, and progress to severe mental confusion.

"The next morning, he doesn't want to get out of bed, he's falling asleep in an instant, and then he looks at me like he doesn't know who I am, or like he's trying to figure out what words are coming out of my mouth," explained Amber Strickland.

Experts say the amoeba gets into the body through the nose, and then goes to the brain.

"They can get into the brain and cause brain infections, infections of the sacs around the brain, and that's called meningitis," said Dr. Keri Hall.

The third case is a bit unusual. A young man in Louisiana apparently got the amoeba from tap water in a Neti pot. It is used to rinse out the nose and sinuses to relieve allergies and infections.

The amoeba was in the home water system, but not in the public water lines.

Still the condition is extremely rare. In fact, you are 100-times more likely to be struck by lightning than die from this infection.

But if you are concerned about going into very warm, fresh water, take precautions.

"You can hold your nose, or you can wear nose plugs, or not put your head underwater," said Dr. Hall.

And we should mention, even if the amoeba is in the water, it is not guaranteed to hurt you.

It's still a mystery as to why some people are affected and others are not. There are only about 3 cases reported every year out of the millions of people who swim in fresh water.

However, as a reminder, if you use a Neti pot, you should only use sterile, distilled or boiled water in the pot.

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