There is a microscopic killer lurking in the lakes. But before you get too panicked, encounters with this bug are extremely rare. Yet this brain eating Amoeba, known as Naegleria Fowleri, (pronounced nuh-GLEERee-uh FOWL’-erh-eye for those brave enough to try and pronounce it), is being blamed for the deaths of at least 6 boys and young men this year.
In one case, 14-year-old David Evans went to swim in Lake Havusu, a popular man-made lake off the Colorado River between Arizona and California. He was on a family outing for his birthday, Sept. 8, with his parents and two siblings. They had a picnic at the lake and spent a few hours splashing around in the water. Everything seemed normal and well at first. But a week later, he began complaining of a persistent headache. He was taken to the hospital where doctors first suspected meningitis. It wasn’t until after his death that doctors working alongside the Center for Disease Control and Prevention determined that he had been infected with Naegleria.
According to the CDC, this microbe has killed 23 people in the
United States from 1995-2004. The bug can live almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, or even dirty swimming pools. It
feeds off algae and seems to prefer warmer, shallow waters. Infections are generally found in the southern states.
Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the CDC, said that people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If they then do a
somersault in the water, or perform some other activity where
water shoots up the nose, they can become infected.
If enough water goes far enough up the nose, the amoeba can take hold. It destroys tissue as it works its way up into the brain,
where it continues its destructive journey, feeding on the victims
People who are infected with the bug usually begin complaining
of a stiff neck, headaches, and fevers. In the later stages of infection, they’ll begin to hallucinate and show behavioral changes. Eventually the brain is entirely consumed, leading a persons vital functions to simply shut down. Once infected, people have little chance of survival.
“Usually, from initial exposure it’s fatal within two weeks,” Beach said. The sudden spike in deaths this year from the bug has raised alarm throughout experts, and some fear that Global warming may lead to a spread of Naegleria, since it thrives in warmer waters. But there is still lots to be understood about the bug-including why it seems to infect children at a higher rate than adults, and boys at a much higher rate than girls. The only explanation offered for this phenomena is that boys tend to have more boisterous activities in the water, but officials could only guess that that might be the cause.
Before panicking too much, keep in mind that this is still an
extremely isolated infection, and there’s a simple way to guard
against it: Nose clips. Have your children wear nose clips whenever swimming or diving in fresh water. According to Michael Beach, “You’d have to have water going way up in your nose to begin with” in order to get infected. A simple pair of nose clips should guard against any such microscopic invaders.