Brain-eating amoeba kills Californian woman

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

The death of a 21-year-old California woman is being blamed on a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba found in warm freshwater and soil, various media outlets have reported.

According to the Huffington Post, Inyo County public health officials said that the woman died on June 20 after being infected by Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled organism which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains typically infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the noses of people who are swimming or diving.

Once the amoeba enters a person’s system, it travels to the brain and causes a condition known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), an infection which is fatal in most instances. PAM is a rare disorder of the central nervous system that lasts for three to seven days and is marked by a growing inability to smell as olfactory nerve cells are destroyed.

Risk to general public is low, doctors report

The woman, whose name has not yet been released, began to display symptoms such as headache, nausea and vomiting a few days before her death. She was admitted to Northern Inyo Hospital and initially diagnoses with meningitis, but as her condition continued to worsen, she was flown to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada.

She died in the emergency room at the hospital, and the CDC said that she tested positive for Naegleria fowleri. It is not known how the patient was exposed to the ameoba, but US health officials emphasize that the infection cannot be contracted by drinking contaminated water, nor can the disease be transmitted directly from one person to another.

“This is a very unusual biology lesson, but an extremely tragic one,” Dr. Richard Johnson of Inyo Public Health told the Reno Gazette-Journal.“Our next steps are to inspect the suspected sites of exposure to find what risk factors might exist like places where people might go swimming and where the domestic water supply is on the property.”

The newspaper noted that the patient is believed to have been infected on private land, not in an area that the public has access to, meaning that it is the risk of widespread infection is low. This is the first reported case of PAM in the region, Dr. Johnson told the Gazette-Journal, but there have been a total of seven previous cases of the disease statewide, he added.


Follow redOrbit on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, Instagram and Pinterest.