A Frightening Amoeba: Naegleria Fowleri


Image by Keteryna Kon

The Brain-Eating Amoeba

As we near Halloween, many of you are probably in a spooky state of mind, watching scary movies and telling haunting stories to prepare for the festivities. Well, I have a scary story for you! You have heard of brain-eating zombies, right? Scientific research shows that there is something far more terrifying−brain-eating amoeba−which happens to be very real!

What is Naegleria Fowleri?

Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled amoeba that commonly resides in warm freshwater all around the United States. It can be found in many contaminated bodies of freshwater like lakes, rivers, hot springs, unsanitary swimming pools, and even water heaters. This deadly amoeba survives best in warm and hot temperatures up to 115°F, making southern states like Texas and Florida the perfect environments for its reproduction and growth. It cannot survive in bodies of saltwater, properly cleaned swimming pools, or sanitized water heaters. Naegleria fowleri is microscopic and is unable to be seen by the naked eye, measuring no more than 8 to 15 micrometers wide. So, how do you come in contact with this brain-eating amoeba? And, more importantly, how can you avoid contact with it if you cannot see it?

Since this amoeba lives in bodies of unsanitary freshwater, you can increase exposure by participating in water-based activities such as swimming in a river, water skiing on a lake, or even using contaminated, un-filtered water in nasal rinses. You cannot get infected by drinking unsanitary water where hosts of Naegleria fowleri are present. Naegleria fowleri can only infect you by traveling up your nose, so if you sniff in the shower while using contaminated water, or if water accidentally goes up your nose while swimming or water-skiing in unsanitary bodies of freshwater, this can be very harmful to your health. Once inside the nose, the amoeba will then travel up the nasal passages and nest within the olfactory nerve−the nerve responsible for translating smells into the brain signals−making it’s way up to the brain where it will begin to feast. Originally, this amoeba would eat bacteria within contaminated water sources; however, while inside the human body, it uses the brain as a source of food−much like a zombie!

Symptoms and How to Prevent Amoeba Contact

After infection, most experience symptoms within 2 to 15 days of contact. 97% of people infected experience symptoms. Symptoms may be similar to viral meningitis such as headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, seizures, with some of the more severe symptoms progressing to a coma or even death. There may also be signs of hallucinations or altered mental states if symptoms are allowed to progress. Death may occur within 3 to 7 days after the first symptom arises. Early treatment and proper diagnosis are crucial for survival. Treatments may include the use of antifungal drugs and antibiotics to decrease the amount of swelling in the brain.

There are a few ways you can reduce potential contact with Naegleria fowleri. Avoid putting warm tap water in nasal rinses like a neti pot and decrease the time you spend swimming or participating in water sports in the late summer months, especially activities that require your head to go underwater. Remember, warm or hot freshwater is the optimal place for Naegleria fowleri to reproduce, so try to avoid bodies of fresh water in the warmer months of the year. You can also wear a nose plug or goggles with a nosepiece if you decide to participate in water sports.

Run, Don’t Walk!

If you start to show symptoms of high onset fever, sudden headaches, or vomiting after being in warm freshwater, seek immediate medical attention for treatments. Run, don’t walk! The earlier the treatment, the better the chance that you may survive−unlike your survival rate in a zombie apocalypse!

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About Brittany Herring

Born and raised in Houston, TX, Brittany made the move to Dallas, TX to expand her marketing career. As a 2019 business marketing graduate from Stephen F. Austin State University with a background in social media, Brittany joined Empower Brokerage in the summer of 2021 serving as a Marketing Specialist and RSD Liason.

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