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Georgia resident dies from rare brain-eating infection. What we know

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The Gist: A rare and usually fatal brain infection caused by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri has claimed the life of a Georgia resident. The individual likely contracted the infection while swimming in a freshwater lake or pond within the state.

What Happened? The Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed the case of Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that thrives in warm freshwater environments such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and hot springs.

The amoeba, often referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba,” causes a brain infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) when water containing the amoeba enters the nose.

The infection cannot be contracted through drinking water or person-to-person contact.

By The Numbers:

  • Naegleria fowleri infections are extremely rare, with only about 3 cases reported in the United States each year.
  • The infection typically leads to severe symptoms such as headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, and coma within 1 to 12 days of exposure.
  • The disease progresses rapidly once symptoms appear, often causing death within about 5 days.
  • This is the 6th reported case of Naegleria fowleri infection in Georgia since 1962.

Why It Matters: While the risk of infection is low, the presence of Naegleria fowleri in freshwater bodies serves as a reminder for individuals to exercise caution when swimming or participating in water activities, especially during the summer months. The amoeba is naturally occurring and cannot be controlled or routinely tested for in bodies of water.

What’s Next? The Georgia Department of Public Health urges recreational water users to take precautions to reduce the risk of infection. These include avoiding jumping or diving into warm freshwater bodies, keeping the head above water or using nose clips, and avoiding stirring up sediment in shallow, warm freshwater where the amoeba is more likely to reside.

The health department did not disclose any personal information about the victim or the specific location of exposure due to confidentiality reasons.

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