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Naegleria fowleri claims sixth life in Karachi this year

By M. Waqar Bhatti
October 28, 2017

The deadly brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri has claimed yet another victim in Karachi, bringing the death toll from the fatal infection this year in the city to six.

Health officials confirmed the death of Muhammad Adnan, a resident of North Karachi, who was brought to a private hospital earlier this week with symptoms of the infection. “He was brought to Liaquat National Hospital with severe headache, high grade fever and other complications on Monday,” Dr Zafar Mehdi, Sindh health department’s focal person on Naegleria fowleri told The News on Friday.

Mehdi added that Adnan was diagnosed with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), the infection caused by the pathogen, and passed away on Wednesday. Adnan was the sixth Karachi resident to die from the deadly bug this year. The last death from the infection was reported in August of a 20-year-old resident of Dalmia.

Dubbed the “brain-eating amoeba”, Naegleria fowleri lives in fresh water and enters the body if the water is ingested through the nose while performing ablution or swimming. Once inside, it attacks the cells of the brain and its lining and is almost always fatal.

Millions of Karachi residents remain most at risk from the bug since the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) has been supplying unchlorinated water in several localities of the city, according to experts. 

Moreover, a recent research by infectious disease experts at Aga Khan University Hospital revealed that large colonies of Naegleria fowleri are present in the thick layers of mud accumulated in the overhead and underground tanks of the apartment buildings, homes and mosques in the city, spelling a major potential public health hazard.

Similarly, other experts have claimed that environmental pollution in Keenjhar Lake and the Hub Dam – where most of Karachi’s water comes from – has also increased the presence of Naegleria fowleri in fresh water. But, the city’s water utility has taken no steps to chlorinate the water before it is supplied, which is the most effective way of killing microorganisms.

To prevent an infection, Mehdi, the health department’s focal person on Naegleria fowleri, advised residents to clean their overhead and underground water tanks regularly to avoid the build-up of sediments that can harbour such bugs and that they should also add chlorine to their tanks to kill any microorganisms lurking there.