Naegleria Fowleri – A Serious Brain Eating Amoeba
Health Issues Infections

How to Prevent Naegleria Fowleri – A Serious Brain Eating Amoeba

It’s possible that you’ve heard terrifying stories about Naegleria fowleri, also known as the “brain-eating amoeba.” For instance, a young child recently contracted the parasite by swimming in a “Nebraska river”.

Fortunately, Naegleria fowleri diseases are not expected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2012 and 2021, just 31 cases have been recorded in the US.

However, as a parent, it’s your duty to take all reasonable precautions to keep your child safe. What you should know about Naegleria fowleri as well as steps to avoid infection are provided below.

What is Naegleria fowleri, the Brain-Eating Amoeba?

An independent ameba (a single-celled living creature) is called Naegleria. Only a microscope can see it since it is so tiny. Naegleria fowleri is a tiny organism that can live in warm freshwater, like lakes and rivers. If the organism enters the body through the nose, it can cause a serious infection in the brain. This infection is very rare but can be very dangerous.

It’s the only species of Naegleria that can cause this type of infection. When conditions are not right for the organism to live, it becomes inactive cysts. But when the conditions are favorable, these cysts turn into feeding forms of the amoeba called trophozoites.

Where Are Brain-Eating Amoebas Found?

Warm water is ideal for Naegleria. It can endure 115 F water without dying. The amoeba can be found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It can also be found in soil, and occasionally in poorly maintained swimming pools or hot tubs that are not properly chlorinated. It is important to note that Naegleria fowleri is not found in saltwater, like the ocean. The amoeba enters the body through the nose, usually while swimming or diving, and travels to the brain where it causes inflammation and damage.

How can people become ill with Naegleria fowleri?

After drinking water that contains the amoeba and getting it in your nose, Naegleria fowleri infections can develop. The brain can then be reached via ascending the nasal cavity. There, it may result in a condition known as PAM (primary amebic meningoencephalitis). PAM infections almost usually result in death because they rapidly destroy brain tissue.

Naegleria fowleri can only enter your body through your nose. Therefore, consuming water that includes Naegleria fowleri will not cause an infection. Additionally, the infection is unable to spread from one individual to another. When people use polluted tap water to wash their sinuses or clean their nostrils during religious rituals, they run the risk of contracting Naegleria fowleri infections.

Rarely, people have contracted Naegleria fowleri infections through aquatic facilities, splash pads, or surf parks that had inadequate chlorine levels. There is no proof that Naegleria fowleri is transmitted through aerosol droplets or vapors of water (like a humidifier’s vapor or the spray of water from a shower). Naegleria fowleri cannot be spread to people by contaminated water.

What temperature of the water may Naegleria fowleri infect people with?

Naegleria fowleri is a thermophilic living thing, which means it is like water that’s hot and grows in heat. It can tolerate even more extreme temperatures for brief periods while growing best at high temps up to 115°F (46°C). Water temperatures from streams and lakes connected to some PAM cases have been studied by scientists, and these temperatures have frequently been greater than 80°F. The amebae might, however, be able to survive in water that is cooler than 80°F.

As temperatures drop, it is more difficult to be detected in the water. However, the ameba can be discovered in pond or river silt at temperatures far lower than those in which it would be present in water.

What type of food does Naegleria fowleri consume?

Naegleria fowleri consumes other microscopic creatures, such as bacteria found in lake and river material.

What Could Be Someone’s Initial Symptoms?

PAM does not just have certain symptoms. PAM may first resemble viral meningitis. These signs include:

⦁ Stiff neck
⦁ Loss of appetite
⦁ Vomiting
Altered mental state

When do Naegleria fowleri infections typically occur?

Naegleria fowleri PAM infections often happen in the summer. Boys 14 years of age and younger are particularly at risk, along with children and young adults in general. Around the globe, fertile soil as well as warm fresh water are home to Naegleria fowleri. Regardless of the state, the amebae may be found in any aquatic body in the US, particularly in the summer months of July, August, and September.    

Naegleria fowleri is a thermophilic living thing, which means it is like water that’s hot and grows in heat. It can tolerate even higher temperatures for brief periods while growing best at high temps up to 115°F (46°C). When lakes and rivers associated to several PAM cases were investigated, scientists found that the water temperatures were generally higher than 80°F. The amebae might, however, be able to survive in water that is cooler than 80°F.

Most Naegleria fowleri infections occur after swimming in lakes, ponds, or springs that are hot. They typically entail swimming, diving, or lowering your head in warm freshwater. Although it’s uncommon, you can get sick in splash pads, surf parks, and water parks that lack proper chlorine. 

How common is Naegleria fowleri in the environment?

Naegleria fowleri is a type of ameba that can be found in freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs, as well as in soil. Although it is naturally occurring, it is still considered rare. The amebae are more likely to live in sediment at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers, so people should avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment in shallow, warm fresh water.

While it is rare, Naegleria fowleri infections can be severe and often fatal. This is why it’s important to take precautions when entering warm freshwater. Although the risk of infection is low, people should always assume there is a risk and take necessary precautions. Some tips to reduce the risk of infection include avoiding swimming in warm, stagnant water, using nose plugs when swimming in warm freshwater, and avoiding water-related activities in warm freshwater during times of high water temperature.

It’s also important to recognize the symptoms of Naegleria fowleri infection, which can include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and altered mental status. If you experience any of these symptoms after swimming in warm freshwater, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment can be critical in preventing serious complications or death.

How can I avoid becoming infected with Naegleria fowleri?

Here are some detailed prevention tips for Naegleria fowleri infection:

1. Avoid Swimming in Warm Freshwater

Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs. To prevent infection, it is best to avoid swimming in these types of water bodies, especially in areas where the amoeba has been found.

2. Use Nose Plugs

If swimming in freshwater is unavoidable, ensure that your child wears nose plugs or keeps their head above water. This will prevent the amoeba from entering the body through the nose.

3. Avoid Stirring Up Sediment

Stirring up sediment in the water can increase the risk of infection. Encourage your child to avoid disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the water body while swimming.

4. Keep Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs Clean

Naegleria fowleri can occasionally be found in poorly maintained swimming pools or hot tubs that are not properly chlorinated. To prevent infection, make sure to keep these areas clean and properly chlorinated.

5. Use Bottled or Filtered Water for Activities that Involve Nasal Exposure

Activities that involve nasal exposure, such as using a neti pot or performing nasal irrigation, should be done with bottled or filtered water. This is because tap water can sometimes contain the amoeba.

6. Educate Yourself and Others

Educate yourself and others about Naegleria fowleri and the risks of swimming in warm freshwater. This will help to raise awareness and prevent infection.

Do Naegleria fowleri infections have treatments?

Treatment for Naegleria fowleri infection is difficult and often unsuccessful. The infection progresses rapidly and is usually fatal within a week. However, there are some treatments that may be used to try to stop the infection from spreading and to reduce inflammation in the brain.

1. Amphotericin B

Amphotericin B is an antifungal medication that has been used to treat Naegleria fowleri infection. It is given intravenously and works by binding to the amoeba’s cell membrane, causing it to leak and die. However, this treatment is not always effective and can have serious side effects.

2. Miltefosine

Miltefosine is an antiparasitic medication that has been used to treat Naegleria fowleri infection. It is given orally and works by interfering with the amoeba’s ability to produce energy. This treatment has shown some promise in animal studies but has not yet been widely used in humans.

3. Dexamethasone

Dexamethasone is a steroid medication that has been used to reduce inflammation in the brain caused by Naegleria fowleri infection. It is given intravenously and may help to reduce swelling and pressure in the brain.
It is important to note that these treatments are not always effective and the infection is usually fatal. The best way to prevent Naegleria fowleri infection is to avoid swimming in warm freshwater, especially in areas where the amoeba has been found.

A suspected case of Naegleria All over the World

Naegleria fowleri infections are rare, but they have been reported in many countries around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most cases of Naegleria fowleri infection have occurred in the United States, particularly in southern states where the water temperature is warmer. However, cases have also been reported in other countries, including:
1. Australia
2. Brazil
3. Bulgaria
4. Canada
5. Chile
6. Costa Rica
7. Czech Republic
8. Egypt
9. France
10. Germany
11. India
12. Iran
13. Italy
14. Japan
15. Korea
16. Mexico
17. Pakistan
18. Spain
19. Switzerland
20. Thailand

How widespread are infections with Naegleria fowleri in the US?

Infections with Naegleria fowleri are uncommon. Between 2013 and 2022, there were 0 to 5 instances diagnosed yearly in the US. There were a total of 29 cases reported in the US during this time.

Young guys, particularly those 14 years of age or younger, are the most commonly affected by Naegleria fowleri infections. This is for unknown reasons. Young boys may engage in activities like swimming in the water and playing in the sediment at the bottom of lakes and rivers at a higher rate than other children.

*Rare Illness

Although there is no single definition of what constitutes a “rare illness,” the U.S. Rare Disease Act of 2002 classified one as a condition that affects fewer than 200,000 persons in the country. The Genetic and Rare Illnesses Information Centres at the National Institutes of Health have embraced this concept.


Is it possible to spread infection from a single individual to another?

No, a person cannot contract a Naegleria fowleri infection from another.

What causes Naegleria fowleri infection-related deaths?

As a result of the infection’s destruction of brain tissue, the brain swells and dies.

What percentage of infected people who start showing symptoms die?

Over 97% of people die each year. Out of 157 known infected patients in the United States between 1962 and 2022, just four have survived.

What should I do if I suspect I may develop PAM symptoms after swimming or enjoying fresh water?

PAM infection is uncommon. Early PAM symptoms are comparable to those of other, more widespread conditions, like bacterial meningitis. When a fever, headache, vomiting, or stiff neck suddenly appears, people should seek medical attention right away, especially if they recently bathed in warm fresh water.

Can a fully sanitized swimming pool infect me with Naegleria fowleri?

No. A swimming pool that has been properly sanitized, maintained, and cleaned cannot cause Naegleria fowleri illness.

Naegleria fowleri has occasionally been discovered in unclean or inadequately chlorinated swimming pools, splash pads, surf parks, or other places of enjoyment.