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The Malaysian Ministry of Health (KKM) said the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has confirmed that a South Korean man in his 50s died on 21 December 2022 after being infected with the amoeba Naegleria fowleri. The man was reported to have resided for four months in a Southeast Asian country before returning to South Korea on December 10, 2022.

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Naegleria (cropped)/CDC

Naegleri fowleri is a thermophilic amoeba or also known as a single-celled protozoan organism that can be found all over the world, especially in freshwater habitats such as lakes, ponds, rivers, hot springs and also in soil. However, it is not found in salt water like in the ocean.

The amoeba Naegleri fowleri is also known as the ‘brain-eating amoeba’ because it is able to cause damage to the brain through infection of the spinal cord. It is able to enter the human body through the nose during activities related to fresh water. However, until now there is no evidence that the infection can spread through water vapor or aerosol droplets.

Ameba Naegleri fowleri can cause a severe brain infection called Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM), which in turn can be fatal. In the early stages, the symptoms of PAM resemble the symptoms of meningitis caused by bacteria or other viruses such as headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. More serious symptoms such as neck stiffness, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, seizures, hallucinations, and coma can also occur.

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Usually, these symptoms appear around five days after infection (incubation period) and can appear as early as one day or as late as 12 days after being infected. The patient’s condition can also worsen rapidly within five days and death can occur within one to 18 days from the onset of symptoms.

The disease is diagnosed by detecting the nucleic acid of Naegleria fowleri in the spinal fluid or brain tissue of an infected individual. Meanwhile, the treatment for this disease is by giving a combination of drugs. However, treatment is very limited due to the rapid progression of the disease.

To date, the Ministry of Health has found that no cases of Naegleria fowleri infection have been reported in Malaysia. However, Malaysians are advised to be careful and take appropriate measures when doing activities related to fresh water as follows:

-Avoid digging or tampering with any sediment at the bottom of a lake, pond or river since the amoeba habitat is there;
-Avoid activities such as diving, jumping into water where water that may be contaminated by amoeba can enter the nasal cavity directly;
-Wash the body with treated water and soap after doing activities in the water; and
-Seek treatment immediately if you experience fever, headache, vomiting or neck stiffness suddenly, especially after doing activities in the water.

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