Naegleria fowleri, often dubbed as brain-eating bug, has claimed the first life of 2019 in Karachi as officials confirmed on Saturday that a 21-year old student from the Orangi Town area of the city died on Friday of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), the devastating infection of brain caused by the germ, at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC).
“A 21-year old student from Orangi Town, Anas Aslam, was brought to JPMC with high-grade fever and other complaints. Doctors suspected meningitis and the patient was shifted to ICU on deterioration in his health. He died yesterday [Friday] due to complications of the disease,” JPMC Executive Director Dr Seemin Jamali told The News on Saturday.
Dr Jamali said they had sent the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for analysis and the laboratory report confirmed that the young patient was infected with the lethal Naegleria fowleri infection.
Naegleria is a kind of amoeba that is a single-celled living organism commonly found in soil and warm freshwater bodies, including lakes, rivers, and hot springs. Experts say only one species (type) of Naegleria infects people.
Naegleria fowleri infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go to swimming or diving in warm freshwater bodies like lakes and rivers. The amoeba then travels up from the nose to the brain where it starts destroying brain tissues, say experts.
According to experts of infectious diseases, one cannot be infected with Naegleria fowleri by drinking contaminated water. They add that Naegleria infections occur when contaminated water from sources such as inadequately chlorinated water of swimming pools or contaminated tap water enters the nose when people submerge their heads in water, cleanse their noses during religious practices or irrigate their sinuses.
A recent study conducted by experts in Karachi and Saudi Arabia revealed that Naegleria fowleri’s colonies were present in the mud accumulated in the overhead and underground tanks of water in Karachi and as soon as weather conditions became favourable, they started growing and multiplying in huge numbers.
Confirming the first death of 2019 due to Naegleria fowleri in Karachi, the Sindh health department’s focal person for Naegleria fowleri, Dr Zafar Mehdi, said seven persons had lost their lives due to the lethal infection caused by the brain-eating bug in the city in 2018 as the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board was providing non-chlorinated water to the citizens for last several years.
“Chlorination of water kills all the microorganisms but unfortunately, our water utility is not adding chlorine to the water,” Dr Mehdi said.