The brain eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri is an unnerving creature that supposedly exists on just about every continent. Found in warm freshwater bodies, such as lakes, ponds, hot springs and rivers, it used to be more rare in the United States. The microorganism has a creepy, “face-like” appearance up-close.
In Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, positive results for Naegleria fowleri in water supplies have come back from independent testing. A different disinfectant will be introduced into the water supply, the Terrebonne Consolidated Waterworks District confirmed on Sunday.
It’s culturally prominent in Louisiana and the South in general to go swimming in natural, beautiful lakes and rivers. However in hot, humid Louisiana, an incredibly fertile ground for microorganisms like this can be found.
This is the third time since 2015 that the brain eating microorganism has been found in Louisiana. Shocking headlines were made in March 2017, when it was found in Louisiana tap water.
According to CBS News:
“Last June, Terrebonne Parish’s water system tested positive for the amoeba in Isle de Jean Charles, where it had also been found three years ago. It impacts all fresh water sources ranging from drinking water to pool water to water used for showers.”
The official narrative is that it exists on every continent, but it’s difficult to find examples of Naegleria fowleri infection on some continents. First identified in Australia in the 1960’s, it’s not easy to even find the official narrative on how this happened in detail, but somehow it started popping up in the United States shortly after its discovery.
It’s called a brain eating microorganism because N. fowleri sometimes results in a lethal brain infection, called naegleriasis, or primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).
Normally this amoeba feeds on bacteria, but when water infected with it is inhaled through the nose, while swimming for instance, something much worse can happen. It can travel to the brain through the cribriform plate, through the olfactory and nasal nerve tissue, and start eating your brain.
Once it passes through to the brain, the amoeba’s trophozoites start to consume your neurons and astrocytes. It’s extremely unusual that this would enter the brain through the cribriform plate.
Encephalitis, or swelling of the brain comes to mind when thinking about this, and that is usually a result of blood brain barrier penetrating chemicals such as polysorbate 80 allowing a pathogen to enter the brain by crossing the barrier that is supposed to protect it, once it has been chemically forced open.
However, primary amoebic meningoencephalitis is something else entirely. Apparently the neurotransmitter acetylcholine may act as some kind of stimulus to enable the amoeba to cross.
So what symptoms appear when you’re infected with this? Symptoms appear between 1 and 9 days after exposure, and they include fever, headache, nausea, confusion, loss of balance, stiff neck, seizures, loss of ability to pay attention, and sometimes even hallucinations.
Within about 2 weeks, most people pass away from the infection. Since about 1962, only one person has been known to survive the amoeba, until 2013 when a 12 year old girl hospitalized for the infection in Arkansas managed to survive. Now the number is up to 4 known survivors.
These infections are rare, but since they are almost always fatal, they make people unfortunately have to think twice before spending some time swimming.
About 143 reported cases of infection occurred between 1962 and 2016, and only four people survived. After using neti pots to rinse out their noses, two Louisiana residents passed away of the infection in 2011.
In 2013, a 4 year old boy passed away in 2013 after playing on a Slip ‘N Slide for hours in muddy and hot conditions.
It’s a mystery of life, why we have to be aware of such lethal creatures out there in the world. It’s a natural wonder why these organisms have to even exist.