Brain-eating amoebas: Six people die in U.S. from rare swimming problem

Brain-eating buggers: Shown here are 1000 times magnification, Naegleria fowleri amoebas are embedded in and eating away at brain tissue. Six people in the U.S. this year have been died from having the amoebas get into their heads.
Brain-eating buggers: Shown here are 1000 times magnification, Naegleria fowleri amoebas are embedded in and eating away at brain tissue. Six people in the U.S. this year have been died from having the amoebas get into their heads.
This sounds like it could be the story arc for the movie Halloween 18, but it’s a real situation that has become a living nightmare for a handful of families living in the southern U.S.

Six people have died this season after encounters with Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic amoeba. Here’s the real horror movie part of the story, the deadly amoebas get sucked up the nose of the victim, work their way into the brain and feed on brain tissue until the host dies.

This year’s six reported deaths is a huge spike in cases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have monitored. From 1995 to 2004, there were 23 people killed by the condition in the U.S. This year’s cases include three in Florida, two in Texas and one in Arizona. Naegleria fowleri was discovered in Australia in the 1960, and worldwide, there have only been a few hundred cases reported.

In Arizona, a 14-year-old boy had been swimming in Lake Havasu prior to developing headaches. They persisted for days, and no remedies were found even after going to the hospital, where the boy died nine days after swimming.

The deadly amoebas like warm water and live in lakes, warm springs and even swimming pools. A common pattern to exposure has people wading through the warm waters, stirring up the bottoms where the amoebas live and then getting some of that amoeba-infested water up their nose. Swimming or diving into that water could also provide exposure to the amoebas.

To make matters worse, there isn’t any clinical treatment for the condition. While several drugs have killed Naegleria in the lab, they’ve been ineffective when used to treat humans. Most cases involving humans have resulted in death.

Local government agencies in the areas where people have died are organizing education campaign in their communities about the condition. A fact sheet on Naegleria folweri is also available on the CDC website.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

Totally freaky. Joe did a story on these amoeba on September 20, and it's the #1-searched-for-topic on Science Buzz this week.

They're no great white sharks, but they're sure as heck a reason to stay out of the water!

posted on Mon, 10/08/2007 - 2:38pm
Nate S.'s picture
Nate S. says:

Okay You are wrong. They are very rare. They only appear in southern U.S. and also.

posted on Fri, 04/16/2010 - 7:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

ok ur right

posted on Sat, 04/17/2010 - 1:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Wow! Did that just happen recently? Thank goodness I don't really like to swim!

posted on Tue, 10/09/2007 - 1:59pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this is kinda creepy i mean i wakeboard out on the lakes all the time!!

posted on Fri, 10/19/2007 - 10:03am
payton's picture
payton says:

my dad likes to go boating and somtimes we sleep on the lake with our boat.

posted on Fri, 10/19/2007 - 10:53am
hannah's picture
hannah says:

hello i love to tube and it is kind of creepy that there could be huge fish swimming around me the whole time !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

posted on Fri, 10/19/2007 - 11:24am
Nate S.'s picture
Nate S. says:

Theyre very small

posted on Fri, 04/16/2010 - 7:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

OMGoodness i kayak on the lake everydy .that is SO freaking scary!!!!

posted on Fri, 10/19/2007 - 2:10pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

help help me, it is sunday july 20th 2008 and i just went into a warm lake today and durring my swim i jumped off this water tramplin and got water up my nose, now im stressing if i have this bug inside my nose. i dont know wat to do, i told my mom, she does not care, now i have to suffer for 1 to 2 weeks wondering if i have an amoeba in my head. im very scared because here are the facks: -i was swimming in a warm water lake
-it was a really hot day out
- the lake looked dirty and full of bacteria
- and when i jumped into the water, the water went far up into my nose.

im really scared and i dont know wat to do so plz sombody give me some advice and some symothems, and wat to do!

posted on Sun, 07/20/2008 - 11:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:


posted on Mon, 07/21/2008 - 8:00am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

First of all, take a deep breath. It's scary, but infection with these amoebas is NOT common. There have only been a few hundred reported cases since Naegleria fowleri was discovered in the 1960s.

Second, we need some geographical information: Where is the lake?

Third, a lake can look "dirty" but be clean, and you probably wouldn't be able to see bacteria in any case. (And amoebas aren't bacteria.)

News reports at the time of the "spike" (6 cases) in reported Naegleria infections last September listed the following symptoms:

"People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In the later stages, they’ll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes."

posted on Mon, 07/21/2008 - 9:20am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

some symptoms are head aches, fevor, and a sore neck.

posted on Sun, 08/03/2008 - 10:40pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

yew!!!! amoeba

posted on Mon, 07/21/2008 - 10:46am
Greg in the Poconos's picture
Greg in the Poconos says:

My family and I went to Disney World in Orlando, FLA.
a couple of years ago in late Sept. when a simular
story made the tv news there.
A boy of around 10 or 11 yrs. went swimming in a
local lake with his dad and a few freinds.
The boy became infected with this thing and died
at the hospital almost two weeks after exposure.
Noone else in his group was infected.
I had never heard of this bug until that trip to FLA.
Such a sad end to a promising young life.
Ever since then my kids wear nose clips while swimming -- even though we live in Pennsylvania!

posted on Sun, 04/05/2009 - 6:49pm
Julia N.'s picture
Julia N. says:

Yeah, I think you're talking about Will Sellars. I actually went to school with him, but he was much younger. I was going into my junior year when he passed. I played softball with his older sister, Chelsea, so I knew him decently. He was a really sweet kid. What happened was he was wake boarding (which he loved to do) and he was out with 20 or so kids. It was on a Sunday, and the following Thursday he developed a rash. On Friday he had a headache and by Sunday he was vomiting. It wasn't until Tuesday that he became disoriented and confused and he was rushed to the hospital, but by that time, his brain had swelled so much that they couldn't reduce it and he died on Wednesday afternoon. It's extrememly tragic to think about, even now.

posted on Tue, 07/07/2009 - 6:27pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

that is horrible

posted on Sun, 04/18/2010 - 11:31am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Naegleria fowleri is everywhere except the Arctic and Antarctic regions. And last month, the amoeba killed a 7-year-old girl in Stillwater, MN.

posted on Thu, 09/02/2010 - 10:54am

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