FACTS: Brain-eating amoeba, or Naegleria fowleri to its friends, is a fearsome predator that lurks in warm fresh-water lakes, rivers, and springs. It is not technically an amoeba, but in fact can morph like a sci-fi villain into three different body shapes: as an amoeboid trophozoite, it can stalk bacterial prey; if the hunting grounds become unsuitable (due to ionic concentration or pH level), it can rapidly transform into a flagellate, growing little tails to propel itself into a new environment; and, in case of emergencies (such as low food supply, drops in temperatures, poisonous conditions) it can transform itself into a cyst. And wait.
Swimmers who are partial to natural environments must be on their guard against this foul demon. While it’s safe to swallow it whole, if it’s inhaled up the nose, it can travel into the brain and cause the highly fatal primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). Viciously attacking the nervous system, brain-eating amoebas swill red and white blood cells as they feast on critical body tissues leading to near certain consequences.
Fortunately, reported cases of brain-eating amoeba infections are extremely rare, only a handful each year. And in fact, many people carry anti-bodies against N. fowleri, so non-fatal, unreported infections may not be uncommon. Nevertheless, if you go swimming in the wild, use your head and hold your nose (on wear nose plugs), particularly if you’re bathing in tropical areas or in the warm summer months. You never know what you’ll encounter oozing in the murky depths.
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