How the climate crisis is fueling the spread of brain-eating amoebas | environment

The is child death In Nebraska this summer a rare but deadly situation Engeleria Follieri – More commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba – back in the headlines. The amoeba lives in warm, fresh water and can enter the body through the nose, where it travels to the brain and begins destroying tissues.

The case highlighted a troubling new fact – climate change is encouraging amoebas to appear in parts of the United States where this is not typical, such as the North and West.

Nigeria It grows best in warm waters – temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, and can withstand temperatures of up to 46 degrees Celsius, says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. This makes it well suited for propagation in a warm climate.

“It likes warm surface waters during the summer in northern latitudes,” he says.

The amoeba causes a disease called Primary amoebic meningoencephalitisDuring the disease, the disease is rare – between 2012 and 2021 only 31 cases have been reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control – it’s incredibly fatal. According to the CDC only Four people out of 151 They survived infection between 1962 and 2020.

in the United States, Nigeria It is usually restricted to the southern states, but in recent years it has steadily spread northward. a Study 2021 He showed that although the infection rate had not budged, the amoeba was moving from southern states to areas of the Midwest. It is found as far north as Minnesota.

The outbreak has mostly been associated with swimming in lakes, although an outbreak has occurred in Arizona as a result of its use warm ground water where Nigeria It was growing in a well. Previous cases have also shown people becoming infected through contaminated water used to slide in the backyard or perform nasal irrigation.

Nebraska health officials said a child died of a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in the Elcorn River in eastern Nebraska.
Nebraska health officials said a child died of a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in the Elcorn River in eastern Nebraska. Photo: Chris Machian/The Associated Press

The pathogen was first discovered in Iowa this summer, after someone died in popularity Lake. A nearby weather station recorded high temperatures of around 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on two consecutive days during the July 4 holiday when the swimmer is believed to have contracted the amoeba.

Gerba adds that most cases are in males under the age of 18 – although it’s not clear why this is. Young boys are more likely to be involved in activities such as scuba diving and playing in the sediments at the bottom of lakes and rivers, where the pathogen is likely to be present.

Even if amoebae do not cause death, they can still cause serious damage. supposed in one Nigeria A case in Florida, a teenager developed a fever after swimming in brackish water, was later taken to the hospital and suffered a seizure, according to GoFundMe erected to support his care.

Warmer temperatures not only facilitate the survival and growth of pathogens such as NigeriaThey’re pushing people into the water more, which could increase their risk, says Yun Chen, an environmental engineer at the University of California Riverside.

The climate crisis is also exacerbating extreme weather events – such as floods and droughts – that can introduce more pathogens into the environment. “In areas of drought, pathogens will be concentrated in water bodies, which may increase the dose of exposure to pathogens when humans are in close contact with bodies of water,” says Shen. In flooded areas, water can carry pathogens into the environment – for example, a flood can bring pathogens from soil or aquatic environments into homes and buildings, or cause sewage to overflow and release pathogens into the environment.

“In the future, due to climate change, people who live in cold regions may also be exposed to warmer weather and greater opportunities for exposure to pathogens,” says Shen.

Micrograph provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) depicts characteristics associated with a rare brain infection due to Naegleria fowleri.
Micrograph provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) depicts characteristics associated with a rare brain infection due to Nigeria Follieri. Photo: CDC/Reuters

Understanding where a pathogen lives is difficult because there is no rapid test for its presence or abundance in any body of water. Even more frustratingly, it remains unclear why some people get amoeba and others don’t, says the CDC. After all, hundreds of millions of people swim in warm, fresh water every year, and only a few get infected. This makes it difficult to establish any acceptable levels of regulation.

As experts continue to notice these changes, Gerba recommends some precautions for swimming in natural fresh water. It is best to avoid putting your head under water to prevent water from entering your nose in warm, fresh water areas. Another option, he adds, is to wear nose clips, especially for children. Mud and soil can also become infected in these areas, so experts say to avoid digging or disturbing the sediment.

“As surface waters warm further north, we expect more cases in the future,” Gerba says. “I expect this trend to continue.”

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