In a terrible event, a 15-year-old boy from Panavalli in Kerala’s Alappuzha district died from a rare brain illness brought on by free-living amoebae generally referred to as “brain-eating amoeba.”
The primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, infection was brought on by these amoebae growing in polluted waterways, according to state health minister Veena George, who verified the information. This marks the sixth reported case of this rare infection in Kerala, with previous cases reported in 2016, 2019, 2020, and 2022.
The Nature of the Infection and Symptoms
Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis is a severe brain disease that occurs when free-living, non-parasitic amoeba bacteria enter the human body through the nasal cavity. Once inside, these amoebae can travel through the nerves and reach the brain, causing a life-threatening condition.
The symptoms of this infection include fever, headache, vomiting, and seizures. Unfortunately, all previously infected patients in Kerala have succumbed to the disease.
Other Reported Cases and Global Impact
The occurrence of brain-eating amoeba infections is not limited to Kerala. In October 2022, a young boy in the United States lost his life after contracting the amoeba, likely from swimming in Lake Mead. The brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri also made its debut in South Korea in December 2022 when a 55-year-old man who had been infected in Thailand and had died there was announced as the first case.
With a total of 381 cases recorded globally as of 2018, the amoeba-caused illness was first noted in the United States in 1937. The US, India, and Thailand have each recorded the bulk of cases.
Transmission and Prevention
Naegleria fowleri, the “brain-eating amoeba,” is found in warm freshwater sources such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It can also be present in poorly maintained swimming pools, splash pads, and other recreational venues with inadequate chlorination.
Notably, this amoeba does not thrive in saltwater environments like the ocean. Infection occurs when water containing active amoebae enters the nose, making its way to the brain. It is important to note that the infection cannot be spread from person to person or through ingestion of contaminated water.
Health experts recommend that people refrain from bathing in polluted water and use caution while engaging in water-related activities to reduce the risk of illness. Using nose plugs or refraining from activities that force water up the nose, such as diving, can significantly reduce the chances of infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis is a highly lethal condition, with a low survival rate. Its diagnosis involves identifying the symptoms such as severe frontal headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting, followed by a stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations, and ultimately, coma.
Treating this infection requires a combination of drugs, including amphotericin B, azithromycin, fluconazole, rifampin, miltefosine, and dexamethasone. These drugs have been used in the few instances when patients have survived the illness due to their potency against Naegleria fowleri.
Conclusion: Staying Informed and Taking Precautions
The recent death of a youngster in Kerala from a rare brain infection brought on by the “brain-eating amoeba” is a sobering reminder of the risks that may be present in polluted water supplies. By being aware of the symptoms and taking necessary precautions to prevent exposure, individuals can reduce the risk of this life-threatening infection. Read more about brain-eating amoeba here.