As temperatures rise more and more due to climate change, a supposedly “brain-eating” amoeba that typically affects locals in southern states is moving north.
Public health organizations are starting to alert medical experts to the possible threat it poses, even though human infection is extremely uncommon, including in the South where it’s predominant.
The species, known as Naegleria fowleri, is frequently found in soil as well as warm freshwater environments like lakes, rivers, and hot springs, as per the CDC.
Although there have been a few rare cases, these single celled living organisms usually infect humans while they’re swimming in such bodies of water.
The primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is almost always deadly when untreated, is brought on by the amoeba after it enters the body via the nose, and reaches the brain.
Since 1962, less than ten cases, mostly related to swimming, have been reported nationwide per year.
However, due to an increase in cases over the last ten years in northern and Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Indiana, and Kansas, the Ohio Journal of Public Health has now published a report to help medical professionals recognize the signs and symptoms as it’s unfortunately becoming more and more common.
The case’s abstract states that “Increased incidence of this rare, deadly, and often misdiagnosed illness in northern states causes concern that N. fowleri is expanding northward due to climate change, posing a greater threat to human health in new regions where PAM has not yet been documented. This case study provides an example of public health nurses incorporating environmental health data into communicable disease investigations, demonstrating how public health professionals, health care providers, and individuals living in northern climates can work together to prevent, detect, and treat N fowleri infection.”
Despite the fast-moving nature of the illness, three people have fortunately been successfully treated using a mix of medications, including miltefosine, which has also been used to get rid of the amoeba in a lab in the past.