Waterborne Amoeba Rare but Deadly

MANHASSET—The deadly amoeba that killed a 9-year-old Kansas girl this week, while incredibly lethal, is actually very rare and hard to contract, a New York doctor says. 

While there have been less than 200 cases in the U.S. since the parasite, naegleria fowleri, was first discovered, in the cases where it did cause an infection it has been fatal nearly 99 percent of the time, says  Bruce Hirsch, MD, an infectious disease specialist in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. 

"This amoeba is present in warm, fresh water environments, and is much more common in the South of the United States, as well as any particularly warm areas. While it tends to live in the sediment, towards the bottom of the water, when it is disrupted it can splash up into the nasal passages, and, looking for a more familiar environment to live in, can push right through the cribiform plate, right into the area that surrounds the brain,” warns Dr. Hirsch. “When it gets into the brain, it begins to digest that nutrition just like it would in nature, causing a particularly dangerous meningoencephalitis to form.”

Naegleria fowleri is often discovered in warm, fresh water, hot springs and unchlorinated pools, but, while it is incredibly deadly, it can be prevented. Dr. Hirsch recommends avoiding immersing your head underwater, as well as wearing nose plugs when swimming in fresh water. 


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