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What is Brain-Eating Amoeba That Killed 6-Year-Old US Boy and Has a 97% Fatality Rate?

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

The fatality rate for brain-eating amoeba or naegleria fowleri is over 97%. Only 4 people out of 145 known infected individuals in the United States from 1962 to 2018 have survived.

A six-year-old boy in Texas has died after he was infected with what was traced to ‘brain-eating amoeba,’ or scientifically, naegleria fowleri.

The governor of Texas has issued a disaster declaration after the death of a six-year-old boy infected with a brain-eating amoeba that was later found in his community’s water supply.

The child died on September 8 following an infection caused by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic organism that breeds in the warm, freshwater of lakes and rivers and of poorly maintained swimming pools, US media reports said.

The amoeba enters the body through the nasal membranes and penetrates to the brain, causing powerful migraine, hyperthermia, stiff neck and vomiting, then dizziness, extreme fatigue, confusion and hallucinations.


Testing revealed traces of the amoeba in the tap of the garden hose at the boy’s house, a spokesman for the town of Lake Jackson said, quoted by local media.

Traces were also found in a fountain in the town centre and in a fire hydrant in a town just one hour away from the major city of Houston, said Modesto Mundo, a city official.

Grandparents of Josiah McIntyre, the deceased child, told the Houston Chronicle that he might have been exposed to contaminated water while he was playing in a splash park downtown, shortly before he fell ill.

What is brain-eating amoeba?

Naegleria is an amoeba (a single-celled living organism) commonly found in warm freshwater (for example, lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and soil. Only one species (type) of Naegleria infects people: Naegleria fowleri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC).

What causes an infection?

Naegleria fowleri infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue.

The CDC also explains that you cannot be infected by drinking contaminated water.

It also notes that “in very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or contaminated tap water) enters the nose, for example when people submerge their heads or cleanse their noses during religious practices, and when people irrigate their sinuses (nose) using contaminated tap water. Naegleria fowleri has not been shown to spread via water vapor or aerosol droplets (such as shower mist or vapor from a humidifier)."

Is the amoeba found only in the US? Can it live in seas?

Naegleria fowleri is found around the world, but is not found in saltwater, like the ocean.

Is it contagious? Is person-to-person transmission possible?

No. Naegleria fowleri infection cannot be spread from one person to another.

What are the symptoms of the bacteria?

Initial symptoms, which start within the first week of infection, include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. Death typically occurs within 12 days, reports CBS.

Is the disease fatal? Is there a cure?

In the lab, several drugs are effective against Naegleria fowleri. But it’s not clear whether they work in humans. Almost every person to have become infected has died.

The fatality rate is over 97%. Only 4 people out of 145 known infected individuals in the United States from 1962 to 2018 have survived.

One of the rare survivors, Kali fought the bacteria by sheer luck, according to her parents. Her parents were told by the doctors “She won’t make it through the weekend. They gave her a one percent chance of survival."

Kali had a surgery performed on her, then an experimental drug on hand from Germany called miltefosine that was not created to treat parasitic meningitis, but had been used on a previous survivor, was administered to her. Then she was put into a medically induced coma, and then all that was done was wait. Wait till she either got better, or succumbed to the disease, her parents told Whyy.

In the most recent incident in Texas, the city’s water utility is trying to purge its system of any old water so the system can be disinfected and replaced with fresh water. That will take 60 days or a 2 month-long period.