A man from Shenzhen province, China has died from an infection with the “brain-eating amoeba”, Naegleria fowleri in early September, according to a Chinese media account. According to the report, the man contracted the lethal parasite after “bathing in water” at a scenic spot in the province with his family in August.

brain eating amoeba
Naegleria fowleri

In less than a week, the patient experienced symptoms including a headache, but attributed it to a cold. However, one week after bathing in the water, the man’s condition worsened and he was admitted to the hospital, where he died on Sep. 3.

The Department of Infectious Diseases at Shenzhen’s No.3 People’s Hospital reported that the man died from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) caused by N. fowleri.

Naegleria fowleri is a relatively rare, pathogenic amoeba found in warm or hot freshwater like lakes, rivers and hot springs. It is also possible to get it from dirty unchlorinated or under-chlorinated swimming pools.

People typically get it by swimming, jumping or playing in freshwater and get the water up their nose. From there the parasite travels to the brain and spinal cord and necrotizes or basically eats brain tissue. The disease is known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and it has a very rapid progression.

Typical symptoms may start after a day or two; headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms may include seizures, irrational behavior, hallucinations and finally coma and death. The course of the disease typically last about a week. Because the symptoms are very similar to bacterial meningitis, PAM may not even be considered in the diagnosis.

The amoeba does not live in salt water or in swimming pools and hot tubs that are properly cleaned, maintained and treated with chlorine.

The following advice is offered to prevent contracting the amoeba:

  • Do not swim, ski, dive or jump into stagnant water.
  • Hold your nose or use nose clips when jumping, skiing, diving or wakeboarding in any fresh water.
  • Avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs and other warm fresh water bodies.
  • If you use a Neti-Pot or syringe for nasal irrigation or participate in ritual nasal rinsing be sure to use only sterile, distilled, or lukewarm previously boiled water.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up mud and scum while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.