The first death caused by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri has been reported in Argentina. The case, which took place in February 2017, claimed the life of an 8-year-old from General Arenales, Buenos Aires province (more than 300 kilometres from Buenos Aires City).
Naegleria fowleri is colloquially known as the “brain-eating amoeba” and while rare, has a fatality rate of 97 percent when it enters the brain, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, 40 infections were reported in the US. Argentine medical officials had never seen an infection cause by N. fowleri until Febrary 2017.
According to reports, both in the Reporte Epidemiológico de Córdoba and a statement distributed by the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID), the 8-year-old had gone swimming in a lagoon near Vedia, Buenos Aires province and in the 24-hours before being admitted to hospital had shown symptoms of fever, headaches and vomiting. He had also had frequent headaches 15 days previous to admission and eventually expressed sensitivity to light and sound.
The patient did not respond to treatment and his health progressively declined. The laboratory confirmed the presence of the amoeba after his death.
N. fowleri is described by the CDC as being present in warm freshwater bodies (lakes, rivers, et cetera) and soil that it can only infect humans if it enters the nose, most commonly after swimming in contaminated waters. The amoeba does not live in saltwater.
Once the amoeba is in the brain, it attacks brain cells – eventually causing brain swelling and death. Infections caused by the amoeba, also known as naegleriasis or primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, are not contagious.
Speaking to Clarín, Dr. Sixto Raúl Costamagna, former head of the Argentine Parasitology Association called for research into determining the areas in Argentina where the amoeba lives.
“We have to look for them, nobody ever looked for them. They were never mentioned in Argentina” he said.