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Tragic death of 14-year-old in Kerala highlights danger of brain-eating Amoeba

Death due to amoebic meningoencephalitis in Kerala

A fatal parasitic infection known to attack and feed on the human brain has killed a 14-year-old boy from the Kozhikode district in Kerala, India. As it turned out later, state health officials identified the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri in the waters which the boy swam in. This event has raised the death rate of the infection in Kerala to the third one in the last three months.

This happened when the boy was taking bath at a small pond, which led to early intervention measures from the docket of public health. Earlier, a five year old girl of Malappuram district succumbed to the same infection on 21 May and a 13 year female child in kannur district on 25 June.

What exactly is the disease?

Naegleria fowleri is a free-living thermophilic amoeba usually belonging to the environment including shallow waters of lakes, rivers, and contaminated swimming pools. It results in a disease termed as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) for which treatment is rarely possible and is lethal in almost all the cases. It moves in the human body by entering in the nose while engaging in water activities, and moves to the brain, and it results in Encephalitis.

The symptoms of PAM are very serious and they include headache, vomiting, nausea, change in the patients level of consciousness and fever. In fact, the infection worsens fast and death occurs within some days. The amoeba prefers warm fresh water and is very active at temperatures that can go up to 46 degrees Celsius, and for this reason warm water is very dangerous for the amoeba’s victims.

How can we prevent it?

Thus, it is necessary to take precautions to prevent this rather rare but still lethal infection. People should always wear nose clips any time they are in water, should not participate in warm freshwater activities, and should make certain that water as a source is clean and well treated.

At present, there is no globally efficient and safe treatment of PAM, which is considered fatal once it develops. An array of drugs such as amphotericin B, azithromycin, fluconazole, rifampin, miltefosine and dexamethasone are used to treat the disease by the medical professionals. Nevertheless, all the same, the overall outlook continues to be rather bleak, which only emphasizes the necessity of prevention.

The recent deaths in Kerala has, therefore, paved way for raising awareness on the existence of Naegleria fowleri and also heightened sense of water safety measures which should be taken in order to prevent more causalities.

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