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Rare brain eating amoeba lurks in fresh water

By Ashley Strohmier, Reporter, ashley.strohmier@kmiz.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 09:39:43 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 16 2014 04:54:37 PM CDT

Heath experts explain risks of brain eating amoeba

A 9-year-old Kansas girl died after she contracted a rare infection caused by an even more rare parasite.

Naegleria fowlri, more commonly known as "the brain eating amoeba", is found in warm freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers.

Doctors refer to this amoeba as unique, deadly, and hard to prevent.

The Centers for Disease Control reports the amoeba is usually contracted while swimming and travels up the nose and to the brain.

Dr. Michael Cooperstock specializes in infection control at University of Missouri Health Care.

He said once someone has the amoeba, there isn't much they can do to stop it.

"Well, Naegleria is really a serious type of infection and fortunately it's extremely rare.  It's extremely rare... But when it hits, it hits hard and so almost everyone who gets this infection... It's lethal," said Cooperstock.

There have only been 130 reported cases of the parasite.

Of those cases, only three people have survived, but with serious brain damage.

"It's just horrendous when it happens. Often times by the time they get to medical attention the person is already no longer conscious," Cooperstock said.

Symptoms usually start five days after infection.

Signs of the brain eating amoeba are severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting.

Cooperstock said people don't need to lose any sleep over it.

"To worry about Naegleria is not very realistic.  There's really nothing you can do to prevent it, unless you want to stay indoors and never go into the water," said Cooperstock.

The CDC also said the parasite can't be contracted by drinking contaminated water.

It's also very rare for it to be found in swimming pools.

However, there have been three cases of people doing a nasal irrigation and being contaminated by tap water.

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