Why brain eating amoeba infections are climbing in northern states

Increasing temperatures are creating the perfect environment for the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri to thrive in. Northern U.S. states including Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota have seen infections from the bacteria climb, causing public health officials to warn clinicians to be prepared. 

Historically, the brain-eating amoeba has been found in the warm climates of southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, but climate change is warming northern states to now become ideal host environments as well, according to research published May 16 in the Ohio Journal of Public Health.

"Increased incidence of N. fowleri in northern climates is but one of many ways climate change threatens human health and merits novel education of health care providers," the authors of the research write. "Healthcare providers, especially those working in northern climates, should be prepared for increases in waterborne and vector-borne diseases…" 

N. fowleri thrives in warm, fresh water bodies and infects humans via the nasal membrane and then travels to the brain 'digesting' brain cells. According to the CDC, the infection survival rate is only 3 percent. It progresses so quickly that effective treatments to combat it have been challenging for experts to identify.

In the northern regions where instances of infection are growing, researchers recommend public health professionals routinely monitor recreational areas that have warm, freshwater for presence of N. fowleri and inform the public as appropriate about the risks of these areas. Clinicians should also perform environmental screenings of patients with meningitis and if a brain eating amoeba infection is suspected, they should contact the CDC.

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