5 things to know about the brain-eating amoeba

An Oklahoma resident recently died due to an infection from the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba. This is not the first such infection in the U.S. this year, as a woman in California also died earlier this year. Here are five things to know about the amoeba and the illness it causes.

1. Naegleria is an amoeba naturally found in warm freshwater, like lakes, rivers and hot springs, according to the CDC. The Naegleria fowleri is the only species of Naegleria that infects people.

2. The infection caused by Naegleria fowleri is known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. PAM is rare but the disease is almost always fatal, according to the CDC: From 1962 to 2014, just three of the 133 people in the U.S. with PAM have survived.

3. People can get PAM when water containing Naegleria fowleri enters the nose and the amoeba travels to the brain. PAM is not caused by drinking water that has the amoeba.

4. Symptoms of PAM are similar to bacterial meningitis, making early diagnosis difficult. Symptoms set in anywhere from one to nine days after exposure, and early symptoms include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Later, symptoms progress to neck stiffness, lethargy and seizures.

5. Despite the disease being very deadly, a treatment for PAM does exist. An investigational breast cancer and anti-leishmania drug known as miltefosine can kill free-living amoebas in the lab, and the CDC has a supply of miltefosine to treat Naegleria fowleri infection. One of the PAM survivors in the U.S. received miltefosine as part of her treatment. Her treatment also involved cooling the body below normal temperature to control brain swelling.

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