LivingEverything you need to know about the 'brain-eating' amoeba

Everything you need to know about the 'brain-eating' amoeba

The so-called brain-eating amoeba has generated a powerful stir in societies where cases have recently been detected. It is a free-living amoeba that can survive and reproduce in nature without the need for a host, causing primary amoebic meningoencephalitis , an infection of the central nervous system that occurs when the amoeba colonizes it. The fact that only thirteen people have survived to date and that it has a mortality rate of 98% is data that is shocking for the population and makes the general concern understandable. But you have to stay calm, and for this we tell you what it is, what are its causes and symptoms and how to treat the “fearsome” amoeba.

One of the most striking data is that Naegleria fowleri only affects the human body if it reaches the brain, and for that it must enter the body by penetrating the neuro-olfactory epithelium . That is, the amoeba enters through the nose and, upon reaching the brain, secretes a series of enzymes that degrade it and cause injury and bleeding. This in turn translates into other symptoms of meningitis such as headache, high fever, neck stiffness … and paralysis or seizures can be reached in its more advanced stages and before leading to death. Jacob Lorenzo Morales , a parasitologist at the University of La Laguna (Canary Islands) and one of the main researchers in the case of the Toledo girl, affirms that the amoeba “is capable of rapidly colonizing the brain, degrading it and causing the death of the patient. between 24 and 72 hours later ”.

Where does it come from and who does it affect?

This type of amoeba usually has a greater presence and proliferates in warm and untreated bodies of water , such as lakes, lagoons, geothermal waters, untreated pools or rivers, and cases of infection are related to recreational activities carried out in these waters of the diving into them, allowing contaminated water to enter the nose and the amoebae to reach the brain .

As is often the case with this type of disease, “they tend to affect children under 12 years of age more ” or the elderly, but the reason is that the children’s immune system is still developing and their cribriform plate is more porous . In the case of the elderly, their body’s defenses are weaker and this leads to less resistance to the damage caused .

Treatment and control

Diseases can usually be tackled from several perspectives and at various times that can be summarized in two: before infection (prevention) and after (treatment) . In the first phase, you can travel through a wide range of options ranging from specific international legislation , which in the case of the brain-eating amoeba is only fulfilled in Mexico and Australia through water control; investment in new drug research or control systems to detect it as soon as possible.

In the last cases that occurred, a parallel culture and PCR (molecular technique) system was used that allowed timely action in the case of the Spanish girl who was infected in October 2018. For Jacob Lorenzo Morales, “ the work in synchronized team of all entities and professionals involved ”is a key element to save the life of the patient.

If the second phase is reached and the person is infected, the most common treatment to combat the brain-eating amoeba is amphotericin B , an antibiotic and antifungal initially isolated from the bacterial species Streptomyces nodosus . To be more specific, the treatment that is usually used is a cocktail of antifungals, antimicrobials and antiparasites that include this drug along with others such as rifampin or mitefosine. ” The important thing is to stop the amoeba in its advance , because if it is not achieved the patient ends up dying in a matter of days”, clarifies Lorenzo Morales.

Amphotericin B has certain side effects for the human body, including toxicity to the liver and, mainly, the kidney . This toxicity is “linked to the dose administered and the duration of treatment.”

Are there reasons for social alarm?

Only 143 cases were detected in the United States between 1962 and 2016, and since their discovery there have been just over 400 people affected . Despite this, at the end of the summer of 2018, several cases were reported in a row in Australia, the United States, Argentina and Spain. This increase is due, according to Jacob Lorenzo Morales, to the fact that “improved knowledge about the amoeba” makes it easier to detect , but that global warming has increased the warm water conditions where they thrive . Even with this possible increase, Lorenzo Morales considers that “there is no reason to create a panic situation .” More than 80% of the population has antibodies against these amoebas ”and even when world cases have increased“ it is still considered a disease strange”.

“I believe that it should serve the entire population, the scientists and clinical staff and the competent authorities to make us all aware of their presence and debate whether we should decide on a greater control of recreational waters in our country and internationally.”

Video: What is the ‘brain-eating’ amoeba?

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