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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 13:47 EDT

Three Die From Rare Amoebic Brain Infection

August 18, 2011

Three people have died this year from a rare brain infection caused by an amoeba, called Naegleria Fowleri, which feasts on neurons.

CNN’s affiliate WFTV reports that a 16-year-old died Saturday in Brevard County, Florida, who may have been swimming in a river before falling victim to the amoeba. Another victim, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch, was a 9-year-old in Henrico County, Virginia, whose mother said he attended a fishing day camp the week before he died.

Jonathan Yoder, the waterborne disease and outbreak surveillance coordinator at the CDC told CNN, “These are rare infections, but super tragic for families. We don’t want to minimize how hard it is for families.”

The symptoms of the infection mimics that of the more common bacterial meningitis. Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and neck stiffness. Later on the victim develops confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.

In order to catch the infection the amoeba has to enter the body through the nose, where it starts looking for food. It then makes its way into the brain where it feeds on neurons.

The infection has a 95% mortality rate, according to CNN’s Madison Park.

There are some drugs that work to kill the amoeba in the laboratory, but the drug’s efficacy is unclear because of the high mortality rate in humans, even when treated. The most common treatment is the anti-fungal Amphotericin B injected into the veins and brain.

According to the CDC, infections from the amoeba occur mostly in southern-tier states during periods of prolonged heat, which causes higher water temperatures and lower water levels.

The CDC states the risk of catching the infection is very low. Some tips to avoid the infection include avoiding water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels, use nose clips if you do choose to recreate in these bodies of water, and avoid digging in or stirring the sediment in the bottoms of these lakes or rivers.

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