Georgia Teen Dies From Brain-Eating Amoeba

A Georgia resident has died from a rare infection that she likely contracted while swimming in a freshwater lake or pond, officials say.

"A Georgia resident has died from Naegleria fowleri infection, a rare infection which destroys brain tissue, causing brain swelling and usually death," the Georgia Department of Public Health said in a press release.

In July, a two-year-old boy died from N. fowleri infection after visiting a hot spring in Nevada.

N. fowleri is commonly called the "brain-eating amoeba" because it causes a brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), characterized by brain swelling and destruction of brain tissue. The infection is almost always fatal.

Amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater bodies, such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs. A person gets infected only when water containing the amoeba goes up the nose. Swallowing the bacteria does not cause the disease, nor does it spread from person to person.

N. fowleri does not live in saltwater, such as the ocean, and it is not found in properly treated drinking water and swimming pools.

The infection typically starts with flu-like symptoms, such as severe headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. The disease then progresses to a stiff neck, seizures, and coma that can lead to death.

Symptoms can start within one to 12 days after infection, but it usually takes five days for the first signs of the disease to appear. The illness progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about five days.

To reduce the risk of contracting N. fowleri, the CDC recommends:

  • Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm freshwater, especially during the summer.
  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when in bodies of warm fresh water.
  • Avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs and other untreated geothermal waters.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment in shallow, warm fresh water. The amebae are more likely to live in sediment at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers.

The infection is very rare, as it affects only about three Americans every year. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous infection with a fatality rate of 97%.

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