Reports of a brain-eating amoeba are on the rise in the country, and it’s already taken a toll on three Americans so far this summer.
So far a 16-year-old Florida girl and a 9-year-old boy from Virginia have succumbed to the Naegleria fowleri parasite in the month of August alone. Health officials say that the amoeba can be found in regular freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers, but once the little bugger gets in your system, the results can be grave.
Despite being identified 50 years ago, scientists are still unsure of how to combat the amoeba or why it can kill some and not harm others.
“It’s very difficult to treat. Most people die from it,” Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana’s state epidemiologist, tells The Associated Press.
Dr. Michael Edmond, epidemiologist for VCU Medical Center and chief of infectious diseases, tells the Richmond Times Dispatch that he would never swim in a pond, fearing the bug.
In the case of Courtney Nash of Florida, authorities say she brought the bug into her body after swimming in a local river. Symptoms then developed within a week. Christian Strickland of Virginia passed away from amoebic meningoencephalitis after attending a fishing camp.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that amoeba enters through the nasal passages, migrates to the olfactory nerves and from there makes its mission “invading the brain.”
The CDC adds that the amoeba isn’t all too common and that deaths aren’t necessarily on the rise. With an average of around three reported deaths last year, however, two in the month of August alone signal an unusual death toll caused by the parasite. Four people passed away from complications caused by the parasite in 2010.
Those that welcome the amoeba into their body often contract meningitis as a result, which leads victims to suffer symptoms including fever, nausea, stiff neck and headache.
Since the amoeba was identified in the early 1960s, the CDC says that the US has seen around 120 cases, almost all resulting in death.
So far three people have been killed this year by the amoeba. A 20-year-old Louisiana man contracted the parasite earlier this summer through contact with regular drinking water in his home. In that case, an unnamed man used a popular household neti pot device to rinse out his sinuses with tap water and contracted the bug that way.