Every year or two several otherwise healthy people, often children or adolescents, are suddenly taken ill or killed as a result of Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that travels through the nose and into the brain. Amoebas are single-celled organisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Naegleria are found in warm water, such as lakes, ponds, puddles, slow-flowing rivers, hot springs, and untreated swimming pools. Most cases of Naegleria disease occur in the South most frequently Florida and Texas.

Naegleria fowleri typically feed on bacteria and don’t actively seek out human brains. When they enter the human body via the nose, however, the brain is the area they are attracted to. It is thought that the amoebas are attracted to a chemical that is only found in the brain.

N. fowleri are relatively common but they rarely cause brain infection. Since they enter through the nose, the disease is most often found as a result of water sports in which water can be forced into the nose, such as water skiing and diving. However, cases have been found in people who simply dunked their heads under water or used a neti pot with undistilled water.

Symptoms of N. fowleri disease appear 2 days to 2 weeks after contact. The average death is 5.3 days from the onset of symptoms. Common symptoms include

  • headache
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • loss of appetite
  • stiff neck
  • altered mental state
  • coma
  • hallucinations
  • loss of taste
  • blurred vision

To avoid exposure to the brain-eating amoeba N. fowleri, stay away from water sports in still lakes or slow rivers during late summer (July-September), when the water is warmest. If you do go boating, skiing, or playing in lakes, wear a nose clip and avoid stirring up mud and silt.


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