Lethal infectious diseases continue to haunt the people of Karachi, as a 34-year-old man who was infected with the deadly Naegleria fowleri amoeba, or the brain-eating bug, and was struggling for his life at a private hospital in the city died late on Sunday night, said officials of the Sindh Health Department.
“Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, a resident of Liaquatabad, died tonight at a private hospital in Karachi due to PAM [primary amoebic meningoencephalitis] caused by deadly water-borne amoeba Naegleria fowleri,” said Dr Zafar Mehdi, focal person for the health department’s Naegleria fowleri monitoring committee, while talking to The News on Sunday night.
The deceased was taken to a private hospital a few days ago over complaints of a severe headache and a high-grade fever, and the analysis of his cerebrospinal fluid revealed that he was infected with Naegleria fowleri, said the health department officials, adding that he was put on life support at the health facility after his condition deteriorated following his admission.
Naegleria fowleri is a single-celled organism that can cause a rare infection of the brain called PAM, which is usually fatal, said the officials, adding that it thrives in warm temperatures and is commonly found in warm bodies of freshwater, such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, though it can also be present in soil.
“It enters the body through the nose, and it moves on to the brain. Infection typically occurs when people go swimming in lakes and rivers or people put water in the nose during ablution,” said Dr Mehdi.
Health department officials said Siddiqui got a headache and a low-grade fever a couple of days ago and despite taking medicine, his condition deteriorated. They said he was taken to the emergency of the Aga Khan University Hospital on Thursday and put on life support after his condition worsened and his lab tests confirmed he was infected with Naegleria fowleri.
Health experts said the amoeba got its nickname of “brain-eating bug” because it starts to destroy brain tissue once it reaches the brain after it is forced up there in a rush of water. The bug claimed two more lives in Karachi earlier this year.
“Two people — a young student identified as Anas Aslam and a 44-year-old man named Rasheed Shah — have succumbed to the lethal amoebic infection in Karachi this year,” an official of the health department said, adding that Siddiqui was the third confirmed case.
Several people have died due to lethal infectious diseases in Karachi, including Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, dengue fever and Naegleria fowleri, the officials said, adding that in addition to deaths, viral infections like polio are also crippling children in the city.
As far as the Naegleria fowleri infection is concerned, a recent study conducted by experts in Karachi and Saudi Arabia has revealed that Naegleria fowleri’s colonies are present in the mud accumulated in the overhead and underground tanks of water in Karachi, and as soon as weather conditions become favourable, they start growing and multiplying in huge numbers.
According to Dr Mehdi, seven people had lost their lives due to the lethal infection caused by the brain-eating bug in the city in 2018, as the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board has been providing non-chlorinated water to the citizens for the past several years. “Chlorination of water kills all the microorganisms, but unfortunately, our water utility is not adding chlorine to the water.”