After the swine flu pandemic, another threat seems to be knocking our doors. It’s called the ‘brain-eating amoeba’. It has already claimed to have taken three American lives. Let’s delve deeper and get more information on this fatal parasite.
The traces of the existence of brain-eating amoeba were first found in 1909, in Ireland, though, it was formally studied and detected in Australia, in 1965 by two physicians named, R.F. Carter and M. Fowler. The brain-eating amoeba is also known as Naegleria fowleri and the infection caused by it is called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). They are found in and near, warm and freshwater resources, like ponds, lakes, spring water, rivers, chlorine-free pools, soil, etc.
Brain-eating amoeba is not really an amoeba, but is just named as one. It belongs to the phylum of Percolozoa. It is a dynamic organism with 15,727 protein-coding genes in them. In comparison, we humans have 23,000 protein-coding genes. This feature in the organism enables the brain-eating amoebas to survive in moist and wet areas for a long period.
How Does this Amoeba Enter the Brain
Naegleria fowleri makes its way into our body through the nasal passages, after which, it moves to the olfactory nerves through which it traverses to the frontal lobe of the brain. It infects the brain, leading to meningitis, which eventually causes death. The infected person normally dies within a period of 2 weeks after observing the following symptoms.
- Stiff Neck
- Change in Taste
- Loss of Appetite
- Blurred Vision
- Change in Smell
Growth and Life Cycle
The brain-eating amoeba tends to be more active in terms of growth and multiplication, in the months of July, August, and September. They are not found in one form. It grows in three forms which are, cyst, trophozoite and flagellate.
It encysts in unfavorable surroundings and climatic conditions like, cold, overcrowded places, accumulation of waste products, etc. They transform into a cyst below the temperature of 10°C.
As a trophozoite, it moves around to find bacteria it can feed on. And it grows the fastest at a temperature of 42°C. When it comes in contact with the human brain, it starts destroying the tissues and digests red blood cells and white blood cells.
This amoeba takes the form of a flagellate when it is looking for a better environment to live in. It transforms into a flagellate in just 5 minutes.
This amoeba does not really target a human brain, but it is in search of bacteria for food. When a human consumes water in which these amoebas are present, either by drinking, swimming or bathing, the amoeba finds its way to the brain, through his/her nose. The scariest part is, that the survival rate for the resulting infection is only 1%.
Treatment options involve combining the drugs; miconazole, sulfadiazine, and tetracycline. But these treatments have been unsuccessful, due to late detection of the infection, because, by that time, the infection has already reached its last stage and the medicines don’t really work anymore. At the moment, there is no effective treatment discovered for it.
There are no preventive measures as such to prevent this infection. However, one must make sure that while swimming, the water is properly chlorinated, as brain-eating amoebas cannot survive in it. Also, one should avoid using water from unreliable and natural resources. When one uses water in a way that, it directly comes in contact with the nose, it should be made sure that the water is boiled or chlorinated. However, sea water is considered to be safe as, these amoebas cannot survive in salt water.
A lot of work is yet to be done at the research and development level, to be able to prevent the disease and to cure an infected patient. As of today, there is no treatment available to cure the infection caused due to this parasite. The only way to save an infected person would be by detecting the infection on time, and work has already begun on this front.
**Please Note: The image provided in this article in no way represents ‘brain-eating amoeba’.