Health News

Brain-Eating Amoeba Kills Arizona Boy, More Cases Reported

By Stone Martindale Sep 28, 2007, 21:29 GMT

Here is a new reason to rethink your possible Lake Havasu vacation; there are deadly amoeba lurking out there.  The CDC clams cases of it are spiking in 2007.

A 14-year-old Lake Havasu boy has become the sixth victim to die nationwide this year of a microscopic organism that attacks the body through the nasal cavity, quickly eating its way to the brain.

Young Aaron Evans died Sept. 17 of Naegleria fowleri, an organism doctors said he probably picked up a week before while swimming in the shallows of Lake Havasu.

According to the CDC (Centers For Disease Control), Naegleria infected 23 people from 1995 to 2004.

This year health officials said they've noticed a spike in cases, with six Naegleria-related cases so far, all of them fatal.

Some health officials have put their communities on high alert, telling people to stay away from warm, standing water.

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational water-born illnesses for the CDC.

"This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," Beach said. "In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

Naegleria has been found almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, even some swimming pools. Still, the CDC knows of only several hundred cases worldwide since its discovery in Australia in the 1960s.

The amoeba typically live in lake bottoms, and people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose which allows the amoeba to latch onto the person's olfactory nerve.

The amoeba destroys tissue as it makes its way up to the brain.

People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers, Beach said. In the later stages, they'll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes.

Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have been effective stopping the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been attacked rarely survive, Beach said.

"Usually, from initial exposure it's fatal within two weeks," Beach said.

Researchers say children are more likely to get infected, and boys are infected more often than girls. Experts don't know why.

In addition to the Arizona case, health officials reported two cases in Texas and three more in central Florida this year. In response, central Florida authorities started an amoeba telephone hot line advising people to avoid warm, standing water, or any areas with obvious algae blooms.

Texas health officials also have issued news releases about the dangers of amoeba attacks and to be cautious around water. People "seem to think that everything can be made safe, including any river, any creek, but that's just not the case," said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The easiest way to prevent infection, Beach said, is to simply plug your nose when swimming or diving in fresh water.

Lake Havasu separates Arizona from California. Temperatures hover in the triple digits all summer.



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