A Brain-Eating Amoeba Just Claimed Another Victim

Amoeba, brain amoeba
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Sometimes we hear about things on the news–like brain-eating amoebas, for instance–and we have a hard time believing they’re real. When Mia Mattioli, an environmental engineer, arrived in Waco, Texas, however, she was in search of exactly that: the Naegleria fowleri. This brain-eating, warm water-loving amoeba is a dangerous organism that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “infects people when water containing the ameba enters the body through the nose…then travels up the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue.”  This amoeba can be lethal! (1, 2, 3)

Environmental Engineers Search For Naegleria Fowleri

Mattioli spent an entire day at BSR Surf Resort, a water park, in order to fill fifty-liter jugs up with samples of water from the facility’s various water attractions. The samples were gathered for testing purposes, and according to Mattioli, “Naegleria doesn’t like the cold, so we ship our water samples at room temperature.” Mattioli wrapped the coolers tightly in order to keep them at a steady temperature, drove them to the nearest FedEx, and then shipped them directly to the CDC’s Environmental Microbiology Laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, in order for the testing and analysis to begin. The reason for this intervention was all due to a man named Fabrizio Stablie. (1)

Case Of Naegleria Fowleri “Brain-Eating” Amoeba

On Sunday, September 16th, a week prior to Mattioli’s water-sampling expedition, 29-year-old Stabile was simply mowing his lawn in Ventnor City, New Jersey, when the intense symptoms of a headache forced him to pause his chore and find rest. Stabile was later admitted to the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center due to an intense fever and a swollen brain. It wasn’t until Thursday that doctors discovered the presence of Naegleria fowleri, detected in Stabile’s cerebrospinal fluid, and by Friday, Stabile was dead. His simple diagnosis was primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). (1, 4)

While some might be outraged that Stabile’s affliction wasn’t treated from the get-go, the truth is that his doctors were unlikely to be searching for any symptoms of a brain-eating amoeba upon his arrival. Naegleria infection symptoms appear remarkably like flu symptoms or other common forms of meningitis. Additionally, PAM is an incredibly rare infection. According to the CDC, only 143 cases have been reported between 1962 and today’s date, averaging out to fewer than three victims every year. Only four people have been known to survive once contracting this strain of infection. (1)

According to an epidemiologist, Tina Tran, who worked closely with Stabile’s physicians as well as the CDC in order to determine a source for his infection,  “This is actually the first time it’s been detected in a New Jersey resident. It’s more common in the southern states, where the water tends to be warmer.” Southern states are far more likely to house the amoeba in question due to its tendency to thrive in only warm waters. After learning that Stabile had taken a recent trip to Waco, Texas, the CDC sent a team to gather water samples in order to identify and hopefully eliminate the problem. (1)

Should You Be Afraid Of Brain-Eating Amoeba?

Now, it’s important to note how extremely rare it is for this brain-eating amoeba to harm a human being. Firstly, only 143 cases have occurred in the last 56 years (of which only 4 survived). While that isn’t to say that the situation is unimportant or lacking need for attention–because it is serious and should be properly addressed– the truth is that there is a far larger likelihood of drowning than an amoeba attack. So while a “brain-eating amoeba” sounds scary, you are far more likely to get in a car accident or contract a lethal food poisoning than to be infected by the Naegleria fowleri. So stay smart and safe out there. (1, 2)

 

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