Brain-Eating Amoeba Kills Six People

Society Materials 30 September 2007 00:45 (UTC +04:00)

( Sky ) - An amoeba which lives in lakes, enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds has killed six people in the United States

Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, the spike in cases so far this year has worried health officials, who predict there will be more to come.

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centres For Disease Control & Prevention.

"This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," said Mr Beach.

"In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

According to the CDC, the amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri, killed 23 people in the US 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.

Arizona man David Evans said nobody knew his son, Aaron, had been infected with the amoeba until after the 14-year-old died earlier this month.

At first, Aaron seemed to be suffering from nothing more than a headache.

"We didn't know," explained Mr Evans. "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 Lake Havasu, a man-made lake on the Colorado River between Arizona and California.

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

People become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom.

If someone allows water to shoot up their nose - for example by doing a somersault in chest-deep water - the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.

From there it destroys tissue as it makes its way up into the brain, where it continues to do more damage.