Naegleria Fowleri: The Brain Eating Amoeba

Naegleria Fowleri, also commonly known as the “brain-eating parasite”, is a free-living, bacteria-feeding amoeba that can be pathogenic, causing a fulminant brain infection called the primary amoebic meningoencephalitis or PAM. This microorganism is typically found in bodies of warm freshwater such as ponds, lakes, rivers and hot springs. It is also found in the soil near warm-water discharges of industrial plants and in unchlorinated or minimally-chlorinated swimming pools.

N. Fowleris is a heat-loving amoeba that’s usually harmless, unless it gets up someone’s nose. It’s not entirely clear how or why, but in rare instances it can attach to one of the nerves that takes smell signals to the brain. There, the amoeba reproduces and the brain swelling and infection that follows is almost always deadly.

But how does this microorganism get into our body?

Infections can occur when water containing the microorganism is inhaled through the nose, when it then enters the nasal and olfactory nerve tissue, traveling to the brain through the cribriform plate. This microorganism normally eats bacteria, but when it enters humans it uses the brain as a food source. It takes 2-15 days for symptoms to appear. Symptoms include stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. Once the triphozoites ingest brain tissue and symptoms begin to occur, death usually occurs within 1-2 weeks. There is no proven effective treatment, however there has been one survivor in USA. A person infected with N. Fowleri cannot spread the infection to another person.

Several water systems in the states of Western Australia and South Australia continue to monitor regularly for Naegleria fowleri colonization in drinking water distribution systems. Experience gained in managing Naegleria fowleri contamination of specific water systems has prevented further infections in Australia since that time in public water supplies. The main concern is private and untreated water supplies.

Can I protect my family from this parasite?

In a presentation put on by Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona, it was presented that Naegleria fowleri required a UV dose of 6.3mJ/cm2 (62,900 μWs/cm2). This is well within the capabilities of a typical Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system. Puretec Ultraviolet water disinfection units are available in various configurations with different pre filtration for the many and varied water supplies and qualities. The flow rate of each application also needs to be looked at so the units are sized correctly. With these applications monitoring of the water quality and maintenance of the ultraviolet system are extremely critical.

Furthermore, if you are using water where there is a possibility of Naegleria Fowleri in your water, as often is the case in rural areas in warmer climates, even after a water filtration system every possible precaution must be taken to prevent inhalation. We’d recommend you learn all you can as awareness of the ways of contacting the disease will help you learn measure to take to reduce you and your family’s risk. We have provided some helpful links below: