In another case of TV shows being prescient, abuzz here at other Scienceblogs is this story, which sounds like a bad B movie: ” 6 die from brain-eating amoeba in lakes.” The amoeba in question is a species of naegleria, which was featured on the medical drama House last year. According to the article:
Beach said people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose — say, by doing a somersault in chest-deep water — the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.
The amoeba destroys tissue as it makes its way up into the brain, where it continues the damage, “basically feeding on the brain cells,” Beach said.
People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In the later stages, they’ll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes, he said.
Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been attacked rarely survive, Beach said.
“Usually, from initial exposure it’s fatal within two weeks,” he said.
More after the jump…
On House, he co-infected the patient with Legionella pneumophila, the bacterium that causes Legionairre’s disease. Legionella is an environmental bacterium, and in nature it frequently infects amoebae and lives within these protozoa–so on TV, this worked to
end the amoeba infection and cure the patient slow down the infection. Real life, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as pretty, and there have been a spike in Naegleria infections this year (6 deaths in the U.S. so far, compared to 23 total in the period from 1995 to 2004). And unlike on TV dramas, there’s no known cure.
Though an increase has been noted, this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything to fear. However, the unknown is often scary, and a problem with this organism is that we don’t currently test for it. In areas where cases have been identified, they’ve cautioned locals to avoid “warm, standing water and areas with algae blooms,” since these are conditions in which the heat-loving amoebae thrive. Officials also suggest using nose clips, to prevent the organism from entering the nose while swimming and splashing around.
Or, it could just be that vaccines cause these infections as well –scientific evidence be damned.