How to stay safe from Brain-Eating Amoeba?

September 20, 2016
Zamir Hussain Laghari

Collage blog


At the time when masses are already haunted by increasing deaths of Congo and dengue fevers, Sindh health ministry has issued Naegleria warning, directing concerned authorities to expedite their efforts to thwart possible dangers of the ‘brain-eating’ amoeba.

This dangerous amoeba kills humans by entering their brains through nasal cavity and eating up brain tissues. It sounds like something out of a horror movie, but the fact is that the germ has killed more than a dozen people last year and 14 in 2014 in Pakistan.

In Sindh so far this year, two deaths have been caused because of this disease.

Alerts have been issued, but mere warnings and announcements will work until concrete steps are taken. The authorities must take this threat seriously which is looming over the city.

Last year in Karachi, health officials collected samples of water from different areas and the results showed that more than half of the city was supplied with water chlorinated much less than the desired levels.

Even the teams found no chlorination at all at more than 90pc of the pumping houses of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB). This situation puts at risk lives of millions in the teeming metropolis.

Some newspapers reports suggest that the work of such health teams and officials, who are tasked with collecting water samples from different cities, including Karachi, has virtually come to a standstill because of resource constraints.

Maintaining required chlorination levels in water supplied to Karachi is part of the KWSB’s responsibilities, which it requires to improve greatly. But no efforts are in sight to improve the performance of the board and its counterparts in other parts of the province.

Also, the risk factor increases because there is no public awareness regarding the disease. The authorities make tall claims but their so-called campaigns have failed to create public awareness.

In the wake of this situation, which reflects government’s apathy, there is no need to worry about as prevention can keep this fatal disease away from you.

Let’s have a look at the factors that spread this lethal germ, and preventive measures that we can adopt to stay safe.

Spreading Factors

Naegleria fowleri is a heat-loving (thermophilic) ameba found around the world.

Hot weather conditions are considered to be favourable for the germ that nurtures in warm waters and freshwater environments such as lakes and rivers, and water with less or no chlorine. It grows best at higher temperatures up to 115°F.

Rainwater provides breeding grounds to this fatal germ, whereas wells, poorly maintained or minimally chlorinated swimming pools are also its homes where it lives by feeding on bacteria and other microbes in the environment.

Naegleria is not found in salt water, like the ocean.

Preventive Measures

Swimming is considered to be one of key factors that cause Naegleria. So stay away from public pools with improper arrangements. And if it’s so necessary for you to swim, hold your nose shut or use nose clips when you go into the water.

Chlorination is the key method to kill the germ and keep the life-taking disease at bay. So, chlorinate your water tanks. Chlorine tablets are available at medical stores.

Another way is to use boiled water for cleaning nose as the germ enters through the nasal cavity of its victim and attacks the brain.

The brain-eating amoeba does not survive in clean water, so regularly clean water tanks, especially underground tanks, in your house or residential apartment.

Imams (prayer leaders) should be advised to the use of chlorine in water being used in mosques for ablution since the germ potentially approaches the victim’s brain through nasal cavity.

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms, which start within the first week of infection, include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations

In 99 per cent of cases, the patients die. Death typically occurs within 12 days.

Key Facts

You can’t catch Naegleria folweri from another person. It’s not transmittable.

According to a research, only three cases have been reported so far in the medical literature of the world where patients suffering from this infection survived.