Brain-eating amoeba: Here’s how naegleria fowleri kills

Here’s a compilation of stories from survivors of the deadly organism.
Nergis Firtina
Cerebrospinal fluid smear containing trophozoites of brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri and neutrophils,
Cerebrospinal fluid smear containing trophozoites of brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri and neutrophils,

Dr_Microbe/iStock 

Brain-eating amoeba naegleria fowleri is one of the most threatening organisms to human health. It is spreading rapidly from south to north day by day. As per the CDC's report, the fatality rate is over 97 percent. Fortunately, there are people who survived the deadly infection.

Back in 2016, Kali Harding was 12 when she contracted the brain-eating amoeba and developed parasitic meningitis, CNN reported.

She was swimming on a hot day in July at a water park when she contracted the organism, and an uncommon infection took her to Arkansas Children's Hospital. She was in critical condition when she entered the facility; she was unresponsive and unable to breathe without a breathing tube.

“I was determined that I wasn’t going to lose her,” Kali’s mom, Traci Hardig, told CNN. “I’m so thankful and blessed… it’s just a miracle.”

One of Kali's attending doctors, Dr. Sanjiv Pasala, reported that medical professionals began treating her immediately with anti-fungal medication, antibiotics, and a brand-new experimental anti-amoeba medication they obtained directly from the CDC. Her body temperature was lowered to 93 degrees. In some cases of brain injury, doctors have employed that method to retain unharmed brain tissue.

“It was a long haul. We were in ICU for 22 days,” Kali's mom said. “It was like riding a rollercoaster – I mean, one-moment things would be going good, and then the next moment, something else could happen.”

Brain-eating amoeba: Here’s how naegleria fowleri kills
Brain-eating amoeba infection, naegleriasis.

Another survivor was a 16-year-old boy

In the same year, Sebastian Deleon got infected by naegleria fowleri and recovered. However, he wasn't as lucky as Kali. as he lost his motor skills, according to Click Orlando.

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“For the first couple of years, it was kind of hard. The part that I most remember is the part that I was in rehab,” Deleon recalled. “It was tough. I had to, like, learn how to walk, how to write again, how to do all the basic stuff again.”

Deleon recalled having a terrible headache while on vacation with his family in Orlando in 2016 when he was 16 years old.

“This headache was different. It felt more like — the description that I kept saying at the hospital was that it felt there was a smooth rock on top of my head, and someone was pushing it down,” he said.

“I couldn’t get up, and I couldn’t move and stuff like that, so my parents were like, ‘OK, there’s something wrong with this boy. We need to take him somewhere,’” he also added. “We got in the car. It felt like I was in one of those roller coasters spinning around and around and around, and I had to wear sunglasses, and the sun wasn’t even out.”

Now, Sebastian is 22 years old and trying to move on.

What is the cause of death from Naegleria fowleri?

When people swim or dive in warm freshwater bodies, such as lakes and rivers, contaminated water enters the body through the nose, infecting them with Naegleria fowleri. It is fatal because the infection destroys brain tissue, causing brain swelling and death.

"It travels to the brain along the olfactory nerve, which is a nerve connecting the nose and the brain that controls our sense of smell," Dr. Julia Haston told Newsweek. "Once the amoeba reaches the brain, it begins destroying brain tissue and causes a devastating infection called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which is usually fatal."

"The amoebae... destroy brain tissue by releasing toxic molecules. The immune system tries to fight the infection by sending immune cells and fluid to the brain," she said.