Brain Eating Amoeba: What You Need to Know

Brian Eating Amoeba | HealthInsta

You may have heard the term brain-eating amoeba, but what exactly is it? And does it actually eat your brain?

The scientific name for this amoeba is Naegleria fowleri. It’s a tiny, single-celled organism that’s found in warm freshwater and in soil.

Not to worry, these amoebas do not intentionally set out to eat your brain. However, they are capable of causing a fatal infection upon entering a human body, the condition is called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). So it is important to be aware of their existence as well as practices that can help prevent disease.

First, some background information

An amoeba is a single-celled organism that is capable of moving around by projecting pseudopodia or “false feet”. It can use its cell membrane to engulf food particles through a process called phagocytosis.

More specifically, the “Brain Eating Amoeba” itself is a species called Naegleria fowleri. It was first discovered in Australia in 1965. While this amoeba is found around the world, cases of infection are actually quite rare.

Naegleria fowleri thrives in warm waters, it can survive in temperatures of 45 degrees celsius!
Areas in which the organism is commonly found include warm lakes or ponds, mud puddles, slowly moving rivers, pools or spas that are not chemically treated, hot springs, aquariums and soil.

Some good news, however: Naegleria fowleri cannot survive in salt water or in swimming pools that are correctly chemically treated, so you don’t have to stop frequenting your local swimming pools or the beach.

What are the Symptoms of an Infection?

Symptoms of a Naegleria infection can appear anywhere from 24 hours to 14 days after initial exposure to the amoeba.

The early symptoms are similar to those of meningitis and can include:
  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
Once the initial symptoms develop, the infection progresses rapidly.

Later symptoms include:
  • Stiff neck
  • Light sensitivity
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

How Do Amoebas Get in the Brain?

    The amoeba enters your body through your nose. It then travels from your nose and to your brain, where it begins to cause an infection.

    Contrary to popular belief, you can’t develop a Naegleria infection from drinking contaminated water.

    Infection typically occurs when you’re swimming in a warm, freshwater lake or river. You can also encounter the amoeba in other water sources, such as contaminated tap water or improperly chlorinated pools, though this is rare.

    In addition, Naegleria loves the heat and thrives in warm or hot water, so infections tend to happen during the summer months, especially amid extended heat waves.

    Can Neti Pot Causes Infection?

    In recent years, there have been a few news stories of people developing Naegleria infection after using neti pots to irrigate their sinuses.
    These cases weren’t due to the neti pot itself. Instead, they were caused by using contaminated tap water in neti pots, which allowed the amoeba to enter people’s noses.

    If you use a neti pot, these tips can help you avoid an infection:
    • Purchase water that’s labeled as “sterile” or “filtered” for use in your neti pot.
    • Use tap water that’s been boiled for at least one minute and allowed to cool down.

    Is There Effective Treatment for Infection?

    Few people survive Naegleria infection, even with treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for survival.

    The recommended treatment for naegleria infection is a combination of drugs, including:
    • Amphotericin B, an antifungal drug that is usually injected into a vein (intravenously) or into the space around the spinal cord to kill the amoebas.
    • Miltefosine, an investigational drug that is usually used to treat breast cancer and leishmaniasis but has also shown promise against the naegleria amoeba in laboratory and animal studies. It has also been used to successfully treat infections with other types of amoebas.
    • Other antifungal drugs.
    • Antibiotics.
    In addition to these drugs, your doctor may recommend other medications or treatment options to manage or decrease brain swelling.