‘Brain-eating’ amoeba kills young man

KARACHI: As feared with the advent of the sizzling summer, Naegleria fowleri, better known as ‘brain-eating’ amoeba, caused this year’s first death in the province, said officials of the Sindh health ministry on Friday.

They said 23-year-old Asim Hasan died at the surgical intensive care unit of a private hospital in Karachi where he had been brought on Wednesday with loss of consciousness and fever.

“We have confirmed report of the first death of the year due to Naegleria today,” said Dr Syed Zafar Mehdi, a senior health ministry official, while speaking to Dawn.

The victim originally hailed from Haji Ismail Magsi village of Tando Allahyar district.

Officials said the man had a history of swimming. He used to swim in a pond situated in his home town. He was suffering from high fever with all symptoms that later confirmed that he was a victim of Naegleria, a lethal condition in which victims do not survive in 99.9 per cent cases.

Team sent for samples’ collection

Director-General for Health Dr Mohammad Tofeeq said a surveillance team had been sent to Tando Allahyar district to take details from the site and collect water samples from the pond.

More cases feared after the first death of the year due to supply of un-chlorinated water

The experts said the organism had gone into hibernation in the environment with temperature of 36 degrees Celsius or below. But as mercury rose, the lethal bacteria was reactivated.

Last year an official report had disclosed that most neighbourhoods of Karachi

were being supplied with un-chlorinated water while the situation in other districts of Sindh was worse.

Chlorination is the key method to kill the organism and keep the life-threatening disease at bay. Another way is to use boiled water while cleaning nose as the organism enters through the nasal cavity of its victim and attacks the brain.

A committee called the focal group for Naegleria had collected samples of water last year and results of their examination showed that over half of the city was supplied with water chlorinated much less than the desired levels. The teams found no chlorination at all at more than 90pc of the pumping houses of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) risking the lives of millions in the metropolis.

Officials said the amoeba could potentially approach the victim’s brain through nasal cavity during ablution at home or in mosques where water supply was not properly chlorinated or boiled.

The authorities’ claim of investing heavily on public awareness campaign vis-à-vis Naegleria has failed to impress anyone, as the pamphlets the government published were not seen at hospitals, ablution places or mosques where people could get infected by rinsing their noses with unsafe and poorly chlorinated water.

The brain-eating amoeba had killed three people last year and 42 over the past four years. The deaths caused by the infection exposed the authorities’ claims of taking adequate measures to curb the spread of the organism. The amoeba, which survives in warm water and enters into the human brain through nasal cavity and eats up its tissues, can only be decimated through proper chlorination or boiling of water.

Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis is defined in medical literature as a rare but typically fatal infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba found in rivers, lakes, springs, drinking water networks and poorly chlorinated swimming pools.

The illness attacks a healthy person, three to seven days after their exposure to contaminated water with symptoms of headache and slight fever, in some cases associated with sore throat and rhinitis (commonly called stuffy nose).

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