An amoeba is a single celled protist that is found in almost everywhere and primarily in fresh water Most of amoebas found in fresh water sources are benevolent and do not cause disease.They can cause some forms of dysentery in countries where water purity is questionable or if a camper inadvertently forgets to boil water before using it. However, most of them are not known to be the pinpoint cause of a terrible infection Recently, a specific amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri has come under close scrutiny by the Center for Disease and has worried many a swimmer and parent.This particular protest is named a “Brain Eating Amoeba” for the manner in which it infects humans.
Naegleria fowleri can cause a rare, but fatal infection in the brain of a human. In fresh water, it enters the system of the individual through the nose when fresh water is propelled up the nose of a swimmer. Most of the cases of infection have come from hot springs and fresh water. There have been however, at least one case of contaminated tap water and one case of contaminated water from a swimming pool that is not properly chlorinatated
What is confusing about this amoeba is that it does not appear to cause a dangerous infection in all of the individuals that are infected with it. If there are one hundred people swimming in a lake with this protist, only one (if any) will become ill from this amoeba. When an individual does become infected, it is known as primary amebic meningoencephalities (PAM). Once the infection has spread to the brain, it usually causes a quick death. The incidence of PAM is rare. In the years between 1989 and 2000, there were only twenty four documented cases of PAM (which must be confirmed through a sample of spinal fluid that shows the infection). The last few months have seen four new cases alone, which is creating fears as scientists and doctors scramble to figure out why the amoeba is more prevalent now.
It is relieving to know that Naegleria fowleri is normally found in stagnant bodies of water that are over eighty degrees Fahrenheit. The infections that are documented seem to occur between the months of June and September. When the water is cooler, the amoebas tend to form protective outer coatings known as cysts that prevent them from being infectious. There is no evidence that the amoeba is contagious to anyone who has contracted PAM. There is also no evidence that fish can pass on this amoeba, providing they are cooked before eaten.
If you are concerned about infection there are some ways to avoid exposure to this amoeba. First, don’t swim in warm, freshwater water sources like lakes and ponds. Second, if you do swim, make sure the water is not stagnant and has been well monitored. Finally, avoid jumping in or diving into these bodies of water. Keep your mouth closed when swimming and do not drink the water. If you suspect any illness following swimming in a body of water, seek treatment immediately. In rare cases, very early treatment saved the lives of the individuals who were infected.