Georgia resident dies from rare ‘brain-eating’ infection, health department says

Muere residente de Georgia por infección provocada por la “ameba come cerebros”
Naegleria fowleri is an amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater and soil. It usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose.(Source: CDC)
Published: Jul. 28, 2023 at 12:35 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2023 at 10:20 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A Georgia resident died from a rare brain infection they likely got from swimming in a freshwater lake or pond, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

They said the infection the person died from is called Naegleria fowleri.

The health department did not say who the person was, how old they were or what body of water they were swimming in.

What is Naegleria fowleri?

Naegleria fowleri is a rare infection that destroys brain tissue, which causes the brain to swell and usually leads to death, according to the health department.

It is commonly called the “brain-eating amoeba.”

It is an amoeba, which is a single-celled living organism, that lives in soil and in warm freshwater bodies of water like lakes, rivers, ponds, and hot springs.

The Ga. DPH said the amoeba is naturally occurring.

Health department officials said there is no routine environmental test for the amoeba in water. Because it is very common, amoeba levels that occur naturally cannot be controlled, according to the Ga. DPH.

How does Naegleria fowleri infect people?

The infection can happen when water containing the often deadly amoeba goes up a person’s nose. It cannot infect people if swallowed. It does not spread from person to person.

About three people in the United States get infected every year, but the infections are usually fatal, according to the health department.

What are the symptoms of Naegleria fowleri?

Infection symptoms often start with a severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. Those symptoms often progress to a stiff neck, seizures, and a coma that can lead to death.

Symptoms usually begin about five days after someone gets infected but can start within one to 12 days.

Once symptoms do start, the Ga. DPH said the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within five days.

What is the risk of infection?

The risk of infection is low, the health department said.

Even with the low risk, the DPH said those that swim in freshwater areas should always assume there is a risk.

The risk can be reduced by limiting the amount of water that goes up the nose.

Here are precautions that can be taken:

  • Avoid jumping or diving into bodies of warm freshwater, especially during the summer
  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when in bodies of warm fresh water
  • Avoid putting your head underwater in hot springs and other untreated geothermal waters
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment in shallow, warm freshwater The amoebae are more likely to live in sediment at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and rivers.

This marks the sixth confirmed case of infection in Georgia since 1962, according to the Ga. DPH. Atlanta News First is working to learn more about this case.