You can jump in it… play in it…and more than likely, swim in it…but letting it splash up your nose can sometimes be fatal. Why? Because amoebas, especially the brain eating, Naegleria fowleri, may be waiting just for you. So, whether you’re at the lake or in a hot tub, if the water has more bacteria than chlorine, that might not be the place to be. So, before you splash, propel, or ingest water up your nose, think twice. Because though the water may be heaven for the brain eating amoeba that lives there, it can be deadly for you!
We’ve all read the heart wrenching story about 12 year old Kali Hardig, the young girl whose body was attacked by the brain eating amoeba while she frolicked in an Arkansas lake with her family and friends. It’s likely that Harnig contracted the deadly and pernicious amoeba while swimming. She was hospitalized and still remains in critical condition.
If the name Naegleria fowleri sounds Greek, that’s because it is. The word amoeba/amoebi is Greek for change. And amoebas do just that…they change. Amoebae constantly change their body shape in order to move. Small, leg-like extensions from under their body give the illusion that they are crawling but they aren’t… they’re changing. Although there are many species of this one-celled organism, for the most part, the brain eater is nothing more than a deadly microscopic parasite. This single-celled amoeba is generally found in areas where the water is warm, and full of bacteria, but where the chlorine is low. This wormlike amoeba lurks within lakes, rivers, hot tubs and pools, awaiting the first opportunity to be ingested though your nasal cavity.
Naegleria fowleri, like other amoebae, reproduces by division of cells. When conditions aren’t warm and cozy, they die. The brain eater cannot live in freezing temperatures or cold water. If weather temperatures are not conducive, amoebae change into inactive cysts. When the surroundings are more favorable, the cysts turn into trophozoites which are the feeding form of the amoeba. This feeding form attacks people by entering through the nose. Once there, it travels through the olfactory nerve into the frontal lobe of the brain, where it dines on brain cells and multiplies. Hence the name brain eater.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Naegleria fowleri is the one of the few species of Naegleria known to infect people. Most of the time Naegleria fowleri, lives in freshwater habitats by feeding on bacteria. However, in rare instances, the amoeba can infect humans by entering the nose during water-related activities. Once in the nose, the amoeba travels to the brain and causes a severe brain infection called primary meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is usually fatal.
Written by DeBorah Heggs