A man from South Korea in his 50s who returned from Thailand passed away after getting infected with brain-eating amoeba, a fatal infection. He began to show symptoms such as headache, fever, vomiting, slurred speech, and stiffness of the neck on the evening of his arrival. He was admitted to hospital the next day but could not be saved. The deadly infection called Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as ‘brain-eating amoeba’ is first such case in South Korea. (Also read: Liver cancer: Warning signs and symptoms; how to prevent its occurrence)
What is brain-eating amoeba
“Amoeba is a unicellular free-living organism. Since it has no cell wall, it moves freely in the environment like water bodies and feeds on other bacteria or dead organisms. Brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri, colloquially known as a ‘brain-eating amoeba’, is a species of the genus Naegleria,” says Dr Dipu TS, Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, Amrita Hospital, Kochi.
How brain-eating amoeba infects people; can it spread from person to person?
“Naegleria fowleri infects people when the people take a dip on not well-maintained pools/river. The water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. Please note, Naegleria fowleri infection cannot be spread from one person to another,” clarifies Dr Dipu.
Dr Dipu also talked in detail about signs and symptoms of brain-eating amoeba.
“Naegleria fowleri after reaching brain via nose, causes a brain infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), that destroys brain tissue. The first symptoms of (PAM) usually start about 5 days after infection, but they can start within 1 to 12 days. Symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, seizures, hallucinations, and coma. After symptoms start, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about 5 days (but death can happen within 1 to 18 days),” says the expert.
Because PAM is so rare, and because the infection progresses so quickly, effective treatment options have been not explored fully.
“There is evidence suggesting the effectiveness of certain drugs may, but the science is still evolving. Currently, PAM is treated with a combination of drugs, including antibiotics antifungals and anti-parasitic agents. Miltefosine is the newest of these drugs. There are survivors among the patients who had taken the combination of drugs, suggesting that the current approach in management of this deadly amoebic infection would be a combination of drugs rather than a single drug,” says Dr Dipu.