Brain-Eating Amoeba Kills California Woman, Officials Investigating Water Source

Naegleria flowleri, commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba, killed a woman from Bishop, California. Naegleria flowleri infections are exceedingly rare, but almost always fatal. Officials are working with the family to locate the amoeba’s source and have told the public that their safety is not at risk.

The woman’s symptoms appeared on June 16th. She reported headaches followed by nausea and vomiting. According to the Los Angeles Times, she went to Northern Inyo Hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with meningitis.

The brain-eating amoeba infection continued to destroy her health, so doctors flew her to another hospital in Reno, Nevada, where she died of cardiac arrest.

Afterwards, she was diagnosed with Naegleria flowleri, a disturbing bacteria.

The CDC reports that the brain-eating amoeba lives in warm water, such as lakes, ponds, and badly maintained swimming pools. A victim must first get water in his or her nose — drinking water containing the bacteria will not lead to an infection.

From 2005 to 2014, there have been 35 brain-eating amoeba cases in the United States. Out of those, 31 caught the bacteria through “recreational water,” 3 from nasal irrigation using tap water, and one from playing on a slip ‘n slide (also using tap water).

The woman from Bishop reported all the stage-one symptoms of a brain-eating amoeba infection — headaches, vomiting, nausea. Stage two includes hallucinations, seizures, and coma. Death usually occurs after three to seven days.

According to officials, the woman came into contact with the amoeba on private property, although they are still working to find the exact source.

Public Health Officer Richard Johnson gave a statement on the situation.

“The investigation will continue, and all appropriate measures will be taken to involve and inform affected parties of any actions needing to be carried out to minimize any risk to persons in the future.”

He added, “This is a tragic event for someone who becomes infected, as well as their family. I feel that it is important for all of us to be informed even though it does not affect lots of people each year.”

The New York Daily News reports that most incidents occur in Florida and Texas. Since 1962, only three people have survived the brain-eating amoeba.

The CDC reports that early diagnosis is essential for survival. In 2013, one of the survivors, a 12-year-old girl, was diagnosed within 30 hours. Her doctors took aggressive actions to eliminate the parasite, including therapeutic hypothermia to reduce brain swelling.

An 8-year-old brain-eating amoeba survivor suffered permanent brain damage from the infection.

Although the amoeba is rare, the CDC recommends staying away from warm, untreated water. According to the Huffington Post, the agency also recommends keeping your head above water (no diving) to reduce the risk of the brain-eating amoeba.

[Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons]