BEWARE of Brain Eating BUG ...6 die

By CHRIS KAHN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Sep 29, 12:59 AM ET

PHOENIX - It sounds like science fiction but it’s true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds until you die.
Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, it’s killed six boys and young men this year. The spike in cases has health officials concerned, and they are predicting more cases in the future.

“This is definitely something we need to track,” said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better,” Beach said. “In future decades, as temperatures rise, we’d expect to see more cases.”

According to the CDC, the amoeba called Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL’-erh-eye) killed 23 people in the United States, from 1995 to 2004. This year health officials noticed a spike with six cases three in Florida, two in Texas and one in Arizona. The CDC knows of only several hundred cases worldwide since its discovery in Australia in the 1960s.

In Arizona, David Evans said nobody knew his son, Aaron, was infected with the amoeba until after the 14-year-old died on Sept. 17. At first, the teen seemed to be suffering from nothing more than a headache.

“We didn’t know,” Evans said. “And here I am: I come home and I’m burying him.”

After doing more tests, doctors said Aaron probably picked up the amoeba a week before while swimming in the balmy shallows of Lake Havasu, a popular man-made lake on the Colorado River between Arizona and California.

Though infections tend to be found in southern states, Naegleria lives almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, even dirty swimming pools, grazing off algae and bacteria in the sediment.

Beach said people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose say, by doing a somersault in chest-deep water the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.

The amoeba destroys tissue as it makes its way up into the brain, where it continues the damage, “basically feeding on the brain cells,” Beach said.

People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In the later stages, they’ll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes, he said.

Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been attacked rarely survive, Beach said.

“Usually, from initial exposure it’s fatal within two weeks,” he said.

Researchers still have much to learn about Naegleria. They don’t know why, for example, children are more likely to be infected, and boys are more often victims than girls.

“Boys tend to have more boisterous activities (in water), but we’re not clear,” Beach said.

In central Florida, authorities started an amoeba phone hot line advising people to avoid warm, standing water and areas with algae blooms. Texas health officials also have issued warnings.

People “seem to think that everything can be made safe, including any river, any creek, but that’s just not the case,” said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Officials in the town of Lake Havasu City are discussing whether to take action. “Some folks think we should be putting up signs. Some people think we should close the lake,” city spokesman Charlie Cassens said.

Beach cautioned that people shouldn’t panic about the dangers of the brain-eating bug. Cases are still extremely rare considering the number of people swimming in lakes. The easiest way to prevent infection, Beach said, is to use nose clips when swimming or diving in fresh water.

“You’d have to have water going way up in your nose to begin with” to be infected, he said.

David Evans has tried to learn as much as possible about the amoeba over the past month. But it still doesn’t make much sense to him. His family had gone to Lake Havasu countless times. Have people always been in danger? Did city officials know about the amoeba? Can they do anything to kill them off?

Evans lives within eyesight of the lake. Temperatures hover in the triple digits all summer, and like almost everyone else in this desert region, the Evanses look to the lake to cool off.

It was on David Evans’ birthday Sept. 8 that he brought Aaron, his other two children, and his parents to Lake Havasu. They ate sandwiches and spent a few hours splashing around.

“For a week, everything was fine,” Evans said.

Then Aaron got the headache that wouldn’t go away. At the hospital, doctors first suspected meningitis. Aaron was rushed to another hospital in Las Vegas.

“He asked me at one time, ‘Can I die from this?’” David Evans said. “We said, ‘No, no.’”

On Sept. 17, Aaron stopped breathing as his father held him in his arms.

“He was brain dead,” Evans said. Only later did doctors and the CDC determine that the boy had been infected with Naegleria.

“My kids won’t ever swim on Lake Havasu again,” he said.

[size=150]More on the N. fowleri amoeba: [/size] … gleria.htm

[size=150]What is Naegleria?[/size]
Naegleria is a free-living ameba commonly found in the environment in water and soil. Only one species of Naegleria has been found to infect humans, Naegleria fowleri.

Where is Naegleria found?
Naegleria fowleri is found worldwide. Most commonly, the ameba is found in:

Warm bodies of freshwater, such as lakes, rivers
Geothermal water such as hot springs
Warm water discharge from industrial plants
Poorly maintained and minimally chlorinated swimming pools

How common is Naegleria infection?
Although Naegleria is commonly found in the environment, infection occurs rarely. Only 23 infections were documented in the U.S. between 1995 and 2004.

When is Naegleria most common?
Infection with Naegleria is very rare. However, when it does occur, infection is most common during the dry, summer months, when the air temperature is hot, the water is warm, and water levels are low. The number of infections increase during years characterized by heat waves.

How does infection with Naegleria occur?
Infection with Naegleria occurs when the ameba enters the body through the nose. Generally this occurs when people are participating in water-related activities such as swimming underwater, diving, or other water sports that result in water going up the nose. The ameba then travels to the brain and spinal cord where it destroys the brain tissue.

What are the signs and symptoms of Naegleria infection?
Infection with Naegleria causes the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain inflammation, which leads to the destruction of brain tissue.

Initial signs and symptoms of PAM start 1 to 14 days after infection. These symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. As the amebae cause more extensive destruction of brain tissue this leads to confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the onset of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually results in death within 3 to 7 days.

What should I do if I have been swimming or playing in freshwater and now think I have symptoms associated with Naegleria?
Infection with Naegleria is very rare and the early symptoms associated with Naegleria may actually be caused by other more common illnesses, such as meningitis. To ensure prompt treatment, people should seek medical care immediately if they develop a sudden onset of two or more of the early symptoms (e.g., fever, headache, stiff neck) at the same time or if symptoms are unusually severe.

Is there treatment for infection with Naegleria?Several drugs are effective against Naegleria in the laboratory. However, although a variety of treatments have been used to treat infected persons, their effectiveness is unclear since most infections have still been fatal.

Can infection be spread from person-to-person?
No. Naegleria infection cannot be spread from person-to-person contact.

How can I reduce the risk of infection with Naegleria?
Naegleria is found in many freshwater lakes and rivers in the United States, particularly in southern tier states. Therefore, it is likely that a low risk of Naegleria infection will always be associated with swimming in warm freshwater lakes, rivers, and hot springs. Some measures that may reduce this risk include:

Avoid swimming or jumping into bodies of warm freshwater, hot springs, and thermally-polluted water such a water around power plants.
Avoid swimming or jumping into freshwater during periods of high temperature and low water volume.
Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when jumping or diving into bodies of warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs.
Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while swimming in shallow, warm freshwater areas.
Do not swim in areas posted as “no swimming” or in areas warning about an increased risk of Naegleria infection.
For further information on protecting yourself from recreational water illnesses, go to

Can I get Naegleria infection from a swimming pool?
No. You cannot get Naegleria infection from a swimming pool as long as the pool is properly cleaned, maintained, and chlorinated.

This fact sheet is for information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the disease described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.

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