Saturday, September 29, 2007

Attack of the Killer Amoebae

Things aren't always going swimmingly in Lake Havasu:

PHOENIX — It sounds like science fiction, but it's true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain, where it feeds until you die.

Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are rare, six boys or young men have been killed this year. The spike concerns health officials, and they are predicting more cases.

....According to the CDC, the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL-erh-eye), killed 23 people in the United States from 1995 to 2004.

....Although infections tend to be found in Southern states, the amoeba lives almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, even dirty swimming pools, grazing off algae and bacteria in the sediment.

Beach said people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose — say, by doing a somersault in chest-deep water — the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.

The amoeba destroys tissue as it heads to the brain, where it continues the damage, "basically feeding on the brain cells," Beach said.

Infected people tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In later stages, they will show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes, he said.

Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been infected rarely survive, Beach said.

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