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Ohio Teen Dies of Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba Naegleria fowleri: 4 Things to Know About this Silent Killer

Jun 23, 2016 05:51 AM EDT

On Sunday, an 18-year-old woman from Ohio died after an infection from a rare brain-eating amoeba. Lauren Seitz was whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte when she contracted the silent killer called Naegleria fowleri. 

The Charlotte Observer says that the said culprit is the Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), an infection caused by the Naegleria fowleri. The said brain-eating amoeba commonly thrives in warm freshwater lakes and other water forms during the summer.

Here are five vital facts to know about this rare infection according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

1. Heat-Loving, Brain-Eating Amoeba

The Naegleria fowleri loves warm places and grows best at higher temperatures. It's naturally found in environments with warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, hot springs, water from industrial power plants, heaters, geothermal water sources as well as poorly maintained swimming pools. In the U.S., Naegleria fowleri infections are mostly common in the northern states during summertime.

2. How Does it Reach the Brain? Through the Nose!

People do not easily contract the rare brain-eating amoeba by swimming in or drinking contaminated water. In fact, PAM is transmitted through the nose. When the contaminated water enters the nose, the Naegleria fowleri goes to the brain by traveling along the olfactory nerve via the skull's cribriform plate. Upon reaching the brain, the amoeba goes on a feeding frenzy, destroying the victim's brain tissues.

3. Extremely Slim Chance of Survival

Surviving from a Naegleria fowleri infection is slim as the disease is fatal. Of the 138 infections in the U.S. from 1962 to 2015, only three survived. Most of the cases that have ben documented are among children. The victims usually contract the brain-eating amoeba via water-related activities such as swimming, diving and head dunking, where there's a chance that water could go up the nose.

Live Science notes that the last person recorded to survive a Naegleria fowleri infection was a 12-year-old girl from Arkansas in 2013. The said patient was treated with an experimental drug called miltefosine and anti-fungal medications.

4. Scientists Have No Idea How to Avoid It

Because of the extremely rare occurrence of Naegleria fowleri infections, studying its effect is extremely difficult. Until now, scientists do not know why only a handful of people are infected with the brain-eating amoeba compared to the thousands of people swimming in recreational warm waters every year. The CDC says that there's no accurate estimate of how many Naegleria fowleri exists in water, and health officials have no enforced standard to protect human health.

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