An individual from Georgia has tragically succumbed to a rare and lethal brain infection, believed to have been contracted while swimming in a freshwater body. The individual, whose identity remains undisclosed, was infected by Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled organism known for causing a devastating infection that leads to brain tissue destruction, swelling, and typically, death, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The exact timeline of the individual’s demise and the specific location of the freshwater body where the infection was contracted remain unclear. Naegleria fowleri, often referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba,” thrives in warm freshwater environments such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and hot springs, as well as in soil. It is not found in saltwater or in properly treated drinking water or swimming pools.
The amoeba can cause a brain infection when water containing it enters the nose. However, it does not pose a threat if swallowed and cannot be transmitted from one person to another. Despite its deadly nature, infections caused by Naegleria fowleri are rare, with an average of three cases reported annually in the United States. However, these infections are typically fatal.
In Georgia, this marks the sixth reported case since 1962. Other cases have been reported across the U.S. this year. In July, a two-year-old boy from Lincoln County, Nevada, died from a Naegleria fowleri infection, possibly contracted at a local natural hot spring. Earlier in February, a Florida man died from an infection believed to have been contracted after rinsing his sinuses with tap water.
The Georgia Department of Public Health advises that while the risk of infection is low, those engaging in recreational water activities should always assume a risk when entering warm freshwater. They recommend reducing the risk of infection by limiting the amount of water that enters the nose. Symptoms of the infection can range from severe headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting, progressing to a stiff neck, seizures, and coma, leading to death. Once symptoms appear, the disease progresses rapidly, typically causing death within about five days.