Brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri is a common parasite, especially during the warm season – summer. Drinking water contaminated with this parasite doesn’t lead to any health complications. However, if the parasite gets up in your nose, it can easily get into the brain and cause a deadly brain infection. This infection is known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). There have been about 145 reported cases of brain eating amoeba infections, and out of those, only four patients have survived. Clearly, the survival rate of an infection from Naegleria fowleri is low, meaning it has a poor prognosis. But then again, there is a small population that has conquered the infection. So, what does it take to survive the brain eating amoeba?
Can You Survive Brain Eating Amoeba?
An infection from the brain eating amoeba is not common, and there is not a known cure for the ailment. However, several laboratory tests have been done and shows that some procedures can help get rid of the parasite for the brain. If a Naegleria fowleri amoeba has entered into your brain, it will take about 2-15 days for symptoms to appear. After that, the likelihood of death is within 3-7 days. So, the reaction to this amoeba in the brain is quite rapid, and probably that is why many people do not survive an infection from Naegleria fowleri amoeba.(2)
In successful cases of treating a brain eating amoeba infection, two patients have been subjected to a medical-induced coma, in which their body temperatures have been lowered and use of miltefosine medication. Generally speaking, the Naegleria fowleri amoeba is adapted to very warm temperatures of about 115 degrees Celsius. They can even survive in warmer temperatures, but only for a short period of time. So, lowering a patient’s body temperature, say, to about 33 degrees will help in limiting the activity of the amoeba.(1)
Miltefosine is a medication initially developed for breast cancer treatment, but has shown promising capabilities in killing the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. As much as the drug has been successful in curing an infection from the brain eating amoeba, it is not a cure. Nonetheless, it is not FDA approved yet and in another case, it was not successful in curing the patient, who died thereafter. In previous cases, in particular the 1978 and 2003 successful cases of surviving patients, various antifungal medications were used and they proved effective. Some common drugs used in treating such cases include; amphotericin B, oral rifampin, dexamethasone, azithromycin and fluconazole.(2)
The best way to increase survival of patients with an infection from the brain eating amoeba is early diagnosis, early and aggressive treatment, as well as a close watch on the patient while under intensive care unit. In addition to that, there should be management of any intracranial pressure attributed to PAM infection.(2)
What Are The Symptoms Of Brain Eating Amoeba Infection?
A risk of infection from the brain eating amoeba is not common. But, in case you develop the infection, here are symptoms to look out for:
- A sudden fever
- Vomiting and nausea
- Stiff neck after being in a warm fresh water body
- Changes in smell and taste
- Confusion or hallucinations
- Wobbliness (ataxia)
Kids and young adults are more prone to this illness; therefore, parents need to be on the lookout for any of the above symptoms. They will often occur after vacationing at or a visit to fresh water where the parasite can be found, especially during summer. Over time, these symptoms are likely to worsen and death is the final blow.
How Can One Prevent Themselves Against Naegleria Fowleri Amoeba?
The best way one can protect themselves against the brain eating amoeba is by avoid warm fresh water bodies. You could also avoid diving, water skiing, swimming underwater and any other forceful water recreation activities that will increase the likelihood of the amoeba getting into your nose. Otherwise, you can use nose plus or hold your nose or just keep your head above water to prevent the amoeba from getting up your nose. You could also avoid hot/warm water bodies.
Surviving the brain eating amoeba can prove difficult since it is in rare occasion that people get an infection from the parasite. Needless say, there is no proven curative treatment for the infection. The most appropriate thing to do if you or your child develops the infection is to visit a hospital near you as soon as possible for immediate treatment and further guidance.