- Few days after a family trip, 13-year-old, Tanner Wall, developed nausea, vomiting, and a stiff neck.
- The hospital immediately placed him on a ventilator and gave the diagnosis of a brain-eating amoeba.
- Naegleria Fowleri, or brain-eating amoeba, causes an estimated 16 deaths per year in the US.
Brain-Eating Amoeba – Less than 3% Survival Rate
Naegleria Fowleri is a free-living amoeba most commonly found in warm freshwater lakes and ponds.
Infection occurs as a result of water entering the nose and traveling to the brain through the cribriform plate in the skull. However, the entry of water through the mouth can not cause an infection.
Infection with Naegleria causes Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). As a result, the destruction of brain tissue and brain swelling takes place.
Symptoms may begin 1-9 days after exposure. These can include frontal headaches, fever, stiff neck, seizures, and vomiting.
Due to the rapid progression of the disease, death can occur within 18 days after the onset of symptoms.
It is still unclear as to why only a few people get infected, while hundreds of others do not. Researchers believe this might be because some people develop antibodies against the amoeba.
What happened to Tanner Wall?
Two days after returning from a family vacation, the 13-year-old started experiencing symptoms of the disease. Doctors initially diagnosed him with Strep throat. However, his parents sensed things were way worse and took him to UF Health in Gainesville.
At the hospital, Tanner was diagnosed with PAM and, immediately placed on a ventilator. On 2nd August, doctors took him off life support as a result of no brain activity.
According to Tanner’s parents, the 13-year-old had gone swimming at the waterpark and lake near their campground.
Tanner’s death makes it the second death from the brain-eating amoeba in Florida this summer.
Authorities at Florida’s Health Department have advised the public to avoid swimming in freshwater bodies during warm weather and to wear nose clips when they do so.
No Cure for Brain-eating Amoeba?
According to the CDC, most infections occur in the summer. Consequently, the majority of cases in the US occur due to swimming in lakes, rivers, or pools during warm weather. However, there have also been reports of people getting infected from using contaminated tap water for nasal irrigation.
Of the 145 confirmed cases in the US, only five are known to have been cured of the disease. There is currently no proven treatment for the condition. Therefore, survival usually depends upon early detection and aggressive treatment with a mixture of drugs.
An experimental drug, called Miltefosine, has managed to save the lives of three individuals in the US infected with the parasite. However, it is important to remember that not all who received the treatment have survived in the past.
Due to climate change, experts predict the rising water temperatures will likely give rise to more cases of the brain-eating amoeba.
Rettner, R. (2020, September 11). 13-year-old dies of rare ‘brain-eating’ amoeba after swimming in Florida lake. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.livescience.com/teen-dies-florida-brain-eating-amoeba.html
Linda G. Capewell, et. al,. Diagnosis, Clinical Course, and Treatment of Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis in the United States, 1937–2013. Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. Volume 4, Issue 4. December 2015.Pages e68–e75. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpids/piu103