Rare, brain-eating amoeba kills Georgia resident after freshwater swim: Officials


(NEW YORK) — A Georgia resident has died after being infected with a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

Health officials said in a release Friday the resident likely contracted Naegleria fowleri — an amoeba that destroys brain tissue — while swimming in a freshwater lake or pond.

Details about the patient including name, age, sex, race/ethnicity or town of residence were not provided.

It comes just a week after a 2-year-old in Nevada also died from the amoeba, according to a release from officials and a Facebook post from the boy’s mother.

Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba so small it can only be seen with a microscope. It lives in soil and warm freshwater including lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers and hot springs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The amoeba infects people when contaminated water enters the nose and the amoeba migrates to the brain. It rarely infects people at pools, splash pads or surf parks due to chlorine and cannot be found in treated drinking water, the CDC said.

It also cannot infect people if the contaminated water is swallowed and does not spread from person to person, the GDPH release said.

Naegleria fowleri causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a disease of the central nervous system that is almost always fatal, according to the CDC.

Symptoms begin one to 12 days after exposure to contaminated water and stage I includes headache, nausea, vomiting and fever. Meanwhile stage II includes stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, altered mental state and coma.

Patients typically die between one and 18 days after being infected and the disease progresses quickly because a diagnosis is hard to confirm.

Between 1962 and 2022, there have been 157 PAM cases reported in the U.S., according to the CDC, with most cases occurring in the summer months. Of those 157 people, just four have survived the infection.

“Prior to this newly confirmed case of Naegleria fowleri infection, there have been five other cases reported in Georgia since 1962,” the GDPH release said.

If PAM is caught early enough, it is treated with a combination of drugs including the antifungal medications amphotericin B and fluconazole and the antibiotics azithromycin and rifampin, the CDC said.

Although the risk of being infected with Naegleria fowleri is low, “Recreational water users should always assume there is a risk when they enter warm fresh water. If you choose to swim, you can reduce your risk of infection by limiting the amount of water that goes up the nose,” the health department said.

The CDC also recommends not putting one’s head under water in hot springs and other similar types of water and to avoid digging in the sediment of warm fresh water.

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