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Brain-eating amoeba claims year’s third life in Sindh

July 05, 2017

Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba, has claimed another life in Karachi: a young man of around 29 years of age who died due to infection caused by the deadly microorganism at a private hospital on June 28, the Sindh Health Department disclosed on Tuesday.

“Ali Amjad, a teacher by profession and a resident of KDA Scheme No 1 in Karachi, was admitted to the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) on June 25,” said Dr Zafar Mehdi, the focal person for the N fowleri monitoring committee of the health department.

“He was diagnosed with meningitis caused by Naegleria fowleri. He died on Wednesday [June 28] at the AKUH due to the deadly infection.” This is the year’s third death in the province and second in Karachi.

A man had died due to infection caused by N fowleri in Karachi on Eidul Fitr, while a young man had earlier died at a private hospital after being infected by the deadly microorganism in the Tando Allahyar district of the province.

Dr Mehdi said Amjad was taken to the AKUH on June 25 after he fell unconscious during the holy month of Ramazan. He died at the hospital on June 28.

Ruling out the possibility of swimming, he said the patient had spent four separate nights of Ramazan at a lawn for prayers. The doctor suspected that he might have contracted the infection during ablution before the prayers.

The previous Karachi victim of N fowleri, 55-year-old Sohail Tabassum, had also contracted the deadly infection during Ramazan, as he used to make ablution before the prayers at a local mosque in the Gulberg locality.

Dr Mehdi said the lack of chlorination by the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board was resulting in the growth of the amoeba in the water being supplied to the city. He urged the people to use sodium hypochlorite or common bleach to disinfect the water in their tanks. “People should use common bleach to disinfect the water in their overhead and underground tanks. It contains chlorine that kills all the microorganisms in the water.”  

N fowleri colonies

Experts at the AKUH claimed that large colonies of N fowleri were now present in the overhead and underground water tanks at houses, mosques and apartment buildings, where the microorganism was living in the layer of mud.

They said that whenever the brain-eating amoeba found suitable environmental conditions and temperatures, it multiplied and infected the people who ingested the water through their nostrils. “Our research has shown that Naegleria fowleri colonies are present in the water tanks that were not cleaned for months and years,” said an AKUH expert and researcher.

“These microorganisms live in the layer of mud at the bottom of the water tanks, and when they find suitable environmental conditions, they start multiplying and targeting humans.”

The researcher said the best option to stay safe from N fowleri was to clean the overhead and underground tanks at houses, mosques and apartment buildings, and then to regularly chlorinate the water to kill the microorganisms.

“The water tanks at mosques should be cleaned on priority basis, as they are hardly cleaned and taken care of by the management of the mosques.” He said a large number of people made ablution on a daily basis at mosques and ingested the water through their nostrils, which could infect them with the amoeba.

Experts told The News that the best chemical available for disinfecting water was sodium hypochlorite, which was available in the market. They said common bleach could also be used for killing germs, bacteria and other deadly pathogens in the water because it also contained chlorine.