Naegleria fowleri, sometimes referred to as the brain-eating amoeba or brain-eating ameba, is a single-celled, living organism that can cause a rare, but devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM.

The amoeba is found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, and sometimes in soil.

People can become infected when the contaminated water enters the body through the nose while swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers.

After entering the nose, the amoeba travels to the brain where it causes PAM, which is usually fatal. In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur in swimming pools with inadequately chlorinated water or heated and contaminated tapwater when it enters the nose.


What are the Symptoms of Naegleria Fowleri Amoeba?

People do not become infected from drinking contaminated water; it must enter through the nose. Symptoms begin within 1 to 7 days after infection, and people die 1 to 12 days after symptoms begin.

Symptoms of PAM are difficult to detect because the disease progresses so rapidly that diagnosis is usually made after death.

Signs and symptoms of the infection include:

Stage 1

  • Severe frontal headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Stage 2

  • Stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Altered mental status
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma

How is Naegleria Fowleri Amoeba Diagnosed and Detected?

Laboratory tests are only available in only a few laboratories around the United States. Because the infection of the disease is so rare, roughly 75% of diagnoses are made after the death.

Is There a Treatment for Naegleria Fowleri Amoeba?

The CDC now has an investigational drug called miltefosine available for treatment of free-living ameba (FLA) infections caused by Naegleria fowleri, Balamuthia mandrillaris and Acanthamoeba species.

If you know someone with suspected FLA infection, please contact the CDC Emergency Operations Center at 770-488-7100 to consult with a CDC expert regarding the use of this drug.

Although most cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) caused by Naegleria fowleri infection in the United States have been fatal, there are a few suvivors: one in california, one in Mexico and the most recent is 12-year-old Kali Hardig of Arkansas.

[Via CDC]