An amoeba kills a swimmer in Lake Murray, and after the 31-year-old man’s death on Wednesday, many are asking, why are there no warnings about the deadly brain-eating amoeba called Naegleria fowleri? As reported by the Associated Press on August 13, the State Department of Health reports that the adult swimmer died of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) after “coming into contact with a rare amoeba” while swimming last week in Lake Murray, which is about 110 miles south of Oklahoma City.
However, Naegleria fowleri is not really “a rare amoeba,” and in order to save the life of others, much more awareness is needed. Naegleria fowleri is a single-cell organism that is naturally present in most lakes, ponds and rivers across the United States. Like many simple organisms, the amoeba multiplies rapidly in very warm and stagnant water.
However, the Naegleria fowleri amoeba that killed the 31-year-old swimmer in Oklahoma does not only enter the body while swimming or diving in warm freshwater places like lakes and rivers, but it can also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water, heated tap water, or irrigation of sinuses) enter the nose. Naegleria fowleri is not found in salt water, like the ocean.
What makes Naegleria fowleri so dangerous is that the symptoms of Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) — sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, and vomiting — mimic those of bacterial meningitis or viral meningitis. Bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis are much more common than parasitic meningitis and can be treated more easily.
Several drugs are effective against Naegleria fowleri in the laboratory. However, their effectiveness is unclear since almost all infections have been fatal, even when people were treated. In 2013, Kali, a 12-year-old girl from Arkansas, was believed to be one of only three people to survive the infection caused by Naegleria fowleri.
When the amoeba kills a swimmer, it happens more quickly than anyone would expect. “Initial symptoms of PAM start 1 to 7 days after infection. The initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within 1 to 12 days.” The 31-year-old Lake Murray swimmer went for a swim late last week. By Wednesday – within less than a week — he was dead.