Health officials in Chile report investigating a possible case of primary amoebic encephalitis (PAM) in a young boy, according to local media (computer translated).

Stethoscope Public domain image/Darnyi Zsóka
Public domain image/Darnyi Zsóka

The seven-year-old boy is hospitalized at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of the Carlos Van Buren Hospital in Valparaíso. The director of the Van Buren Hospital confirmed that they are still gathering more information about the treatment they can apply, since it is not common to acquire this single cell organism and so far all antiparasitics and broad spectrum antibiotics have not worked.

They have already notified the Institute of Public Health to confirm the presence of the amoeba Naegleria fowleri.

There is no history reported on the child.

Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba”), is a microscopic amoeba which is a single-celled living organism. It can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, ponds and canals.

Infections can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM (which destroys brain tissue) and is usually fatal. Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels.

Naegleria fowleri infections are rare. Most  infections occur from exposure to contaminated recreational water. Cases due to the use of neti pots and the practice of ablution have been documented.

You cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water and the amoeba is not found in salt water.

Initial symptoms of PAM usually start within 1 to 7 days after infection. The initial symptoms may include headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. Other symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and hallucinations. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly.

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