Rare brain disease reported in Mo. for the first time in 35 years

Since 1962, only 154 known cases of Naegleria fowleri have been identified in the United States.
Since 1962, only 154 known cases of Naegleria fowleri have been identified in the United States.(DHSS)
Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 8:47 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 8, 2022 at 10:01 AM CDT
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MISSOURI (KFVS) - The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has reported a confirmed case of a rare brain disease that hasn’t been identified among a Missouri resident in 35 years.

According to a release on Thursday, July 7, DHSS was notified of a Missouri resident with a laboratory-confirmed infection of Naegleria fowleri.

DHSS says Naegleria fowleri is a microscopic single-celled free-living ameba that can cause a rare, life-threatening brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The patient is currently being treated for PAM in an intensive care unit of a hospital.

The Missouri health agency reported on Friday they are working closely with the Iowa Department of Public Health on this case.

Health experts say this ameba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers and ponds; however, PAM is extremely rare.

According to DHSS, only 154 known cases have been identified in the United States since 1962. The only other case identified among a Missouri resident occurred in 1987, and there currently aren’t any additional suspected cases of it being investigated in the state.

The source of the patient’s exposure is currently being investigated by public health officials. Local and out-of-state activity are being considered.

Although a rare occurrence, DHSS says infection from Naegleria fowleri comes when water containing the ameba enters the body through the nose from freshwater sources.

This infection cannot be spread from one person to another, and it cannot be contracted by swallowing contaminated water.

“These situations are extremely rare in the United States and in Missouri specifically, but it’s important for people to know that the infection is a possibility so they can seek medical care in a timely manner if related symptoms present,” said Dr. George Turabelidze, Missouri’s state epidemiologist.

People can take actions to reduce the risk of infection by limiting the amount of water going up the nose.

These actions could include:

  • Hold your nose shut, use nose clips, or keep your head above water when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater.
  • Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.
  • Avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater during periods of high-water temperature.
  • Avoid digging in, or stirring up, the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

Those who experience the following symptoms after swimming in any warm body of water should contact their health care provider immediately:

  • Severe headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Altered mental status
  • Hallucinations

For more information about Naegleria fowleri, visit the CDC’s webpage.

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