In 1961, a nine-year-old boy from Port Augusta, a country town in Australia, was admitted to the hospital with a high fever. Within days, he was dead. In his brain, doctors found and “acute invasion” of an “unusual form of amoeba.”
Since its discovery in the 1960s, Naegleria fowleri—a water-borne amoeba with a 98 percent fatality rate when it invades through the nose—has claimed around 150 lives.
Now, the disease has resurfaced in Karachi, a Pakistani city of 18 million, for the first time since 2006. Last week, more people died from the infection, raising the death count to ten since May, according to The Guardian. And the true toll could be higher, doctors warn, since Pakistan’s hospitals are overburdened and residents may not be familiar with the disease.
N. fowleri enters the body through the nose, then travels from the nasal membranes to the brain. At first, symptoms are mild. The victim may be feverish, experience a headache or stomach ache, or notice a stiff neck. But within five to seven days, as the amoeba makes itself at home in the brain, death almost always arrives.
Most cases of N. fowleri, which often manifests in children, are linked to swimming or bathing in contaminated water. But in 2011, two people in Louisiana succumbed the the disease after spraying non-sterilized water up their noses with neti pots.
Most of the recent Pakistani victims did not have a history of swimming, and authorities are testing drinking water from various parts of the city. In the meantime, local awareness campaigns amongst health workers and the community will be underway.
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