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Brain-Eating Amoeba – Is it The Next Pandemic?

Two years ago, during this time, several people across the world were victims of one of the most feared pandemics in recent times – swine flu or pig flu, medically referred to as the H1N1 virus. This pandemic which wreaked havoc across several nations lasted for approximately five months and claimed the lives of 14,286 people. There have no outbreaks of a potential disease that could become a pandemic in the last couple of years. But, there could be one just around the corner – “the brain-eating amoeba“.

Brain-Eating Amoeba

If you have been following the recent health news, you must be aware of the deaths of three individuals during the month of August due to getting infected by the Naegleria fowleri infection. In common terms, this infection is referred to as the brain-eating amoeba (similar to H1N1 virus being called the swine flu). So, what exactly is this Naegleria Fowleri infection?

The N.Fowleri is a unicellular organism belonging to the protist (a type of microorganism) family. The N.Fowleri microorganism is usually found in warm fresh water bodies like ponds, rivers, lakes or hot springs. Apart from these water bodies, this microorganism can also survive in non-chlorinated swimming pools and in soil enriched by warm water discharges of industries.

Although this organism is referred to by the name brain-eating amoeba, it in fact, is not an amoeba. The name has been assigned to it for only convenience sake. But the dreaded part associated with this microorganism is that if it were to infect one, although only rarely, the victims death is for certain.

The Effect on Brain

This infection is known to effect the central nervous system. This infection manifest itself into the human body through the nasal cavities. Once in the nasal cavities, the structure in the brain which takes care of the odors (the olfactory bulb) gets affected. The amoeba then clings on to the nerve fibers and slowly finds its way into the brain. Once into the brain, it starts feeding on the cells in the brain resulting in the N.Fowleri infection.

Even healthy and young children and adults can get affected by this infection making them victims of meningitis, which could lead to their death. This is true in nearly 98 percent cases.

Symptoms

The following symptoms are observed once the amoeba enters through the nose-

  • loss of odour perception
  • nausea
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • inability to distinguish taste
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • hallucinations
  • loss of appetite

Within two weeks after the onset of these symptoms, the person infected would succumb to death.

All the three deaths that took place in August were the resultant of the victims either swimming in fresh water bodies or due to fishing near fresh water bodies. As of now, getting infected by this amoeba is considered to be very rare. But three deaths within a matter of days is a matter of concern, and if not addressed, we could certainly face another pandemic.

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