Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, a new threat may be lurking in Michigan’s freshwater lakes and streams. In fact, public health officials say the “brain-eating amoeba” may be found in any warm freshwater pond, lake, river or stream within the United States. 

The official name for this freshwater threat is Naegleria fowleri. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  

Naegleria is a free-living amoeba (a single-celled living organism). It is so small that it can only be seen with a microscope. It is commonly found in warm fresh water (such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and soil. Only one species of Naegleria infects people: Naegleria fowleri. 

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So How Does This Brain-Eating Amoeba Infect People? 

This microscopic killer infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. It usually happens when unsuspecting people put their heads under fresh water.  

This threat really cramps your style when you take part in swimming or diving. That “cannon ball” into the lake from the edge of the dock may prove to be deadly. Once entering the nose, the amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain, where it destroys the brain tissue and causes a devastating infection. It’s called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and is almost always fatal. To be safe, you should keep your head above the water while swimming. 

The Deadly Brain-Eating Amoeba Under The Microscope

The deadly brain-eating amoeba under the microscope.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Is This Really A Threat? 

Unfortunately, yes. On July 22, 2023, a young girl from Georgia died after she contracted an amoeba while swimming in a freshwater lake in Georgia. 17-year-old Megan Ebenroth died within days after the Georgia Department of Public Health issued a public safety alert about the infection. A 2-year-old Nevada boy, Woodrow Turner Bundy, died July 18th, 2023, after contracting the virus while swimming in Ash Springs, Nevada. 

To make things worse, neti pot users are at risk. The brain-eating amoeba may be found in tap water. It is suspected that a Florida man died in early March from “sinus rinse practices”. The Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County issued a warning advising residents to only use distilled or sterile water for neti pot solutions. Tap water should be boiled for at least 1 minute and cooled before sinus rinsing. 

How The Deadly Amoeba Enters The Body And Attacks The Brain

The deadly cycle of the brain-eating amoeba.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

What Are The Symptoms? 

The first symptoms of PAM usually start about 5 days after infection, but they can start within 1 to 12 days. Symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Later symptoms can include a stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, seizures, hallucinations, and coma. After symptoms start, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about 5 days (but death can happen within 1 to 18 days). 

Watch This Informative Video On The Brain-Eating Amoeba

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