Something to sneeze at: brain-eating amoeba

On an otherwise relaxing day, I read this disturbing piece (Brain-eating amoeba kills 6 this year) in the Boston Globe:

It sounds like science fiction but it’s true: An amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds until you die…

[P]eople become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose – say, by doing a somersault in chest-deep water – the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.

The amoeba destroys tissue as it makes its way up into the brain, where it continues the damage, “basically feeding on the brain cells,” [CDC specialist Michael] Beach said….

Beach cautioned that people shouldn’t panic about the dangers of the brain-eating bug. Cases are still extremely rare considering the number of people swimming in lakes.

The easiest way to prevent infection, Beach said, is to use nose clips when swimming or diving in fresh water.

It seems to be a warm-water phenomenon. With global warming there is concern that cases may be on the increase. The six reported cases in the US this year compare with 23 over the 10 year period from 1985 to 1994.

September 30, 2007

2 thoughts on “Something to sneeze at: brain-eating amoeba”

  1. Just devil’s advocate. Perhaps we are seeing more cases lately because the ability to identify and diagnose this condition has gotten better?

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