Naegleria Infection

1 What is Naegleria Infection?

Naegleria infection is a brain infection caused by an organism called amoeba, which is usually found in rivers, hot springs and freshwater lakes.

A person is usually exposed during swimming or engaging in water sports.

Naegleria fowleri or amoeba travels to the brain through the nose, thus causing the problem.

While this is a rare infection, naegleria infection is usually deadly since the organism can cause severe brain damage.

While millions can be exposed to amoeba each year, only a few can be infected with it.

2 Symptoms

The symptoms of naegleria infection may begin to show within two days to two weeks, and may include:

  •  Altered sense of taste and smell
  •  Fever
  •  Severe headache
  •  Light sensitivity
  •  Stiff neck
  •  Nausea
  •  Vomiting
  •  Loss of balance
  •  Excessive tiredness and sleepiness
  •  Confusion
  •  Hallucinations
  •  Seizures

The symptoms usually progress rather fast and in as short as one week, could lead to death. Seek medical attention at once if you experience any of these symptoms, especially after swimming or doing activities in fresh water recently.

Once infected with naegleria, the person develops primary amebic meningoencephalitis. This rare disease causes inflammation of the brain and severe damage of the brain tissue.

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3 Causes

Naegleria fowleri, an organism that lurks in warm fresh water is the cause of naegleria infection. It is also rarely found in soil.

The amoeba travels to the brain through the contaminated dust or water that goes through the nose when swimming.

The amoeba doesn’t thrive in clean, disinfected pool and doesn’t spread from one person to another.

4 Making a Diagnosis

If you think you are infected with naegleria, go to the doctor immediately to receive a diagnosis. Your doctor may have to scan your brain using CT scan or MRI to rule out swelling or bleeding in the brain. 

A CT Scan or Computerized Tomography scan is a procedure that makes detailed cross-sectional images of the brain taken from various angles. An MRI machine, on the other hand, produces highly-detailed images using radio waves and a magnetic field.

Apart from MRI and CT Scan, a spinal tap can also be done. Spinal tap, or lumbar puncture, is a procedure in which a needle is inserted in your lower back in order to draw out some spinal fluid. The fluid is then tested using a microscope to see if there’s amoeba and to measure the pressure on the spinal fluid.

5 Treatment

Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are vital to survive naegleria infection. Very few people are lucky to get away from this fatal infection, even after treatment.

Amphotericin B, and antifungal drug, is one of the primary treatments used for this. It is injected intravenously or can be injected into an area in the spinal cord. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses miltefosine as an emergency treatment.

Miltefosine (Impavido), together with other medications and aggressive procedures, may help improve the health of a naegleria-infected person.

6 Prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you may prevent the risk of naegleria by:

  • Avoiding swimming in warm freshwater rivers and lakes
  • Using nose clips to keep your nose shut when swimming or diving 
  • Not disturbing the soil or sediment underneath when swimming or engaging in freshwater water sports 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you may reduce the risk of getting naegleria by:

  • Avoiding swimming in warm freshwater rivers and lakes
  • Using nose clips to keep your nose shut when swimming or diving 
  • Not disturbing the soil or sediment underneath when swimming or engaging in freshwater water sports

7 Risks and Complications

There are several risks associated with naegleria infection.

In the US alone, millions are exposed to this naegleria infection-causing organism. However, only a few people are affected. A statistics done from 2005 to 2014 shows that only 35 infections were reported.

You may have higher risk of contracting naegleria if you are always swimming or doing activities in fresh water.

The heat is also a contributing factor, since amoeba thrives in warm waters.

Children and adolescents are more at risk, but is still not known why.

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