This Amoeba Eats Your Brain
The deadly micro-organism was recently found in a Texas water supply
Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse: imagine being told that you could die if you used tap water for anything other than flushing your toilet. This happened in Texas over the past week, as 8 towns were warned that their water supplies were tainted with a rare and deadly micro-organism, known as Naegleria fowleri or the brain-eating amoeba.
A six year old died in Lake Jackson, Texas, after apparently contacting the organism at a water fountain. The amoeba is generally not thought to survive in water supplies due to the water being treated, but tests for it did return a few positive results, and so the public was warned not to use the water, and to boil it if use was necessary. If the amoeba was living in the water supply of a town, residents could come in contact with it by simply taking a shower.
This amoeba occurs naturally in fresh water environments and lives in the warm water and soil. Since it prefers warmer climates, cases of this infection are more commonly found in the Southern states of America, such as Florida and Texas. While you can’t get infected with it from swallowing the water, if water that contains the organism enters your nasal passages, this is its entryway to your brain. This is why the infection is usually contracted by individuals who were swimming in freshwater lakes or streams. But people have died from this infection after such innocuous activities as using their Neti Pot.
The infections this near-invisible organism causes are almost always fatal. This is because it attacks the tissue of the brain, literally destroying it, consuming it as a food source. Treating the infection is nearly impossible once it takes root in the body, and as such only four people have ever survived once being diagnosed. That’s four people out of 145. The fatality rate is 97%, of the documented cases from 1962–2018.
What Naegleria fowleri does to the brain is known as Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). Symptoms an infected individual exhibits are similar to viral meningitis. They can include fever, chills, aches, and seizures, and much like the coronavirus, a loss of taste and smell. Once symptoms manifest however, death generally occurs within three to five days.
While dying from having your brain literally eaten inside your skull is a terrifying prospect to consider, the odds of it happening are extremely rare. The CDC reports as few as 8 cases of this a year. Even if a few cases slip through the cracks of diagnosis, this is still a rarity in the grand scheme of things.
Having said all that, if you are a paranoid individual (like me) and wish to avoid contacting this amoeba as much as possible, there are a few things that might lessen the chances of it happening. For one thing, don’t go swimming in lakes or rivers. If you do, try not to let the water into your nose, as impossible as that sounds. Only use distilled water in your Neti Pot, and if you must use tap water, be sure to boil it for at least three minutes first.
On the other hand, it does not generally pay to be hyper paranoid of the possibility of a death that is rarer than being struck by lightning. You’d never enjoy anything about life if you worried about every single thing that could kill you. Just try to use common sense and do what makes you happy. There could be worse final memories than water-skiing on a southern lake, surrounded by friends, family, and sun. The other option is to seal yourself away from the world and never experience anything. And really, is that even living?