AdventHealth: Test closes gap in race to detect brain-eating amoeba 

AdventHealth's Rapid Amoeba PCR test, which can confirm a brain-eating amoeba infection in as little as three hours, is a "game changer" and could mean the difference between life and death for patients, Jose Alexander, MD, clinical microbiologist and director of microbiology, virology and immunology for AdventHealth Orlando (Fla.), told Becker's

Dr. Alexander and his team developed the test for Naegleria fowleri in September and have refined it in the past 10 months to extend the viable testing window to allow for shipping samples from across the country. 

"We've run these Rapid Amoeba PCR tests through several sample transportation temperatures to determine sample stability and quality," he said. "Spinal fluid samples can now be shipped at room temperature if testing is expected within 48 hours and refrigerated if expected within seven days." 

AdventHealth will test samples from any U.S. hospital, and the updated test mitigates concerns over delays due to sample freezing and the need for special packaging to send samples to Orlando. Physicians can contact Dr. Alexander at for more information on the test or with regard to potential cases. 

Time is of the essence

Delays in testing, diagnosis and treatment of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, the infection caused by N. fowleri, are fatal. In fact, 97 percent of people who contract PAM do not survive, according to the CDC.

The traditional test used to diagnose N. fowleri takes up to six days for results, which is often not fast enough, Dr. Alexander said. 

"The amoeba kills its host in only three to seven days, making identifying and treating the condition extremely urgent and difficult," he said. "This test accelerates diagnosis, ultimately improving patient outcomes." 

N. fowleri moving north

Historically, N. fowleri is found in warm bodies of water — such as lakes and rivers — in Southern states including Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and as far north as Virginia. It infects people who go diving, swimming, or simply putting their head under infected water. The amoeba travels up the nose and into the brain, where it destroys cells, causing PAM. 

However, according to research published May 16 in the Ohio Journal of Public Health, climate change has caused traditionally cooler states — including Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio — to warm, creating environments for N. fowleri to thrive. 

"Increased incidence of this rare, deadly and often misdiagnosed illness in northern states causes concern that N. fowleri is expanding northward due to climate change, posing a greater threat to human health in new regions where PAM has not yet been documented," the report said. "Healthcare providers, especially those working in northern climates, should be prepared for increases in waterborne and vector-borne diseases." 

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