Brain-eating amoeba infection in Kerala: Prevention, symptoms and treatment

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of Naegleria fowleri can start about five days after exposure to contaminated water. Photo: IANS

Kerala's freshwater and backwater bodies can be tempting to dive in and children love to swim in these lakes, ponds and rivers during their holidays. However, a deadly infection has been spreading serious concern among Malayalis of late after three children, aged five, 13 and 14 years of age respectively, lost their lives. The kids contracted an infection called Naegleria fowleri aka primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which spreads quickly. The disease is caused by a free-living amoeba, a tiny organism, which lives in warm freshwater bodies. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it enters the human body through the nose or a damaged eardrum and can travel to the brain, causing deadly infection within a short time. It is not visible to the naked eye; you can only see it under a microscope. Therefore, it is also very difficult to locate. Here are a few things you should know:

Does it affect adults?
The disease mostly affects children, however, adults are not immune to it. Therefore, those who are forced to swim in such waterbodies should take precautions like nose and ear clips or at least hold their nose shut while in water. 
Signs and symptoms of the infection
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of Naegleria fowleri can start about five days after exposure to contaminated water. However, they may surface anywhere between the first and 12th day. The early symptoms can include
1) Fever
2) Headache
3) Vomiting
4) Nausea

The additional symptoms can be
1) Hallucinations
2) Distraction and disorientation
3) Confusion
4) Stiff neck
5) Seizures
6) Coma

How to prevent
1) Assume that it is present in all water bodies near you, though you can't get PAM by swimming in disinfected water bodies. 
2) Clip your nose and ears while swimming in such water bodies.
3) If possible, avoid swimming in water bodies. 
4) The infection can also happen if you use tap or faucet water which has the amoeba for sinus or nasal rinsing. Use sterilised water instead
5) Supervise children if they play with unchlorinated water so that it doesn't go up their noses while washing their face or showering. 

Treatment for the disease
Ensure hospitalisation without fail at the earliest, if you suspect the symptoms to be that of Naegleria fowleri. 
Drinking doesn't cause it
Interestingly, swallowing water containing Naegleria fowleri doesn't cause the infection.

Kerala boy dies of brain-eating amoeba
The third fatality from amoebic meningitis was Ramanattukara native EP Mridul (12), son of Ajith Prasad and Jyoti. He died at a private hospital in Kozhikode on Wednesday. The boy was on ventilator support for 24 hours. He was admitted with vomiting and headache. Mridul showed the symptoms after swimming in the Achankulam near Farook College on June 16. He was a class seven student of Farook Higher Secondary School

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