Thursday, October 11, 2012

Prevention is the best way to combat brain-eating amoeba

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi 
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Prevention is considered the best way to avoid the rare ‘brain eating’ disease Naegleria Fowleri, which has already claimed as many as 10 lives in a matter of just a few months in Pakistan’s most populous city of Karachi.

Prevention is the key in this case because the mortality rate of the disease is extremely high. It has to be ensured that the water supply is chlorinated and the citizens are aware about the precautionary measures.

Abstaining from all water-related activities can prevent Naegleria infections, but for many people, this simply is not an option. There are other things people can do.

It’s strongly recommended to avoid swimming in still, warm, brackish water that has loose bottom sediment. Jumping or diving into the same type of water is also to be avoided. The brain-eating amoeba is often caught through swimming in infected water.

Wearing a nose clip or holding your nose if you jump or dive into relatively warm water lakes, rivers, pools or other similar bodies of water is advised since Naegleria Fowleri is transmitted by contaminated water entering the nose. It cannot be passed from person to person, however.

People are warned to avoid getting water too deep into their nostrils and make sure their water supply is properly treated. Those with symptoms are urged to seek help immediately without wasting any time.

The highest incidence of this disease occurs in the hot summer months in children and young adults, with males having the highest incidence of disease.

Naegleria Fowleri, which has a fatality rate of more than 98%, infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nasal membranes and destroys brain tissues. Symptoms are initially very mild, including a headache, stiff neck, fever and stomachache. Death usually occurs five to seven days after infection.

Naegleria Fowleri is an amoeba that lives in fresh water and soil. The organism goes through three stages in its life cycle: cysts, flagellates, and trophozoites. It is the trophozoite form that causes human disease.

Naegleria are ‘thermophilic’ meaning that they prefer warmer water. However, the cysts are able to survive for months in very cold water. Thus, Naegleria infection is found both in tropical and temperate climates.

Although there are many species of Naegleria, including Naegleria gruberi, only Naegleria fowleri causes human infection. There are other free-living amoebas that cause human disease, including Acanthamoeba.

The organism was officially discovered in Australia in 1965 by Dr M Fowler and Dr R Carter although it’s believed to have occasionally infected humans for centuries. Fortunately, humans are rarely infected with Naegleria fowleri.

The disease was first reported to have surfaced in Karachi, the commercial hub of the country, in 2006 but this year's outbreak has been deadlier making the citizens more concerned.

The awareness campaigns by the concerned authorities can help immensely in combating the deadly disease. The NGOs as well as the government sector should mobilize all their resources in spreading the precautionary measures that could save precious lives.