Friday, August 19, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.
A little-known killer is making its way through the southern United States, according to the British tabloid The Daily Mail: a "brain-eating amoeba" called Naegleria fowleri. Victims so far include one 16-year-old girl from Florida, Courtney Nash, who reportedly died after swimming in the St. John's river in Brevard County. (The New York Daily News confirms the story.)
Victims of the amoeba, which is usually found in bodies of fresh water, first experience "changes in taste and smell, headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck," according to a source even less reliable
than British tabloids. "Secondary symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, lack of attention, ataxia, and seizures. After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly over 3 to 7 days, with death occurring from 7 to 14 days after exposure."
Nash reportedly got a fever and
became delirious after she swam in the river, and contracted amoebic meningoencephalitis. A post-mortem spinal tap showed that the amoeba was present.
Doctors say that the amoeba (which is not actually an amoeba but an excavate protist) usually enters through the nose, then spreads through the brain and nervous system, increasing the possibility of other rare and deadly infections.
The Mail reports two other recent deaths caused by the amoeba, in Louisiana and Virginia.
This isn't the first time it's struck in Florida: in 2009, a boy 10-year-old boy died after a swim in Polk County. In 2007, three kids were killed after swimming in lakes in the Orlando area.
Health officials recommend against swimming in stagnant freshwater.
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