What are “brain-eating” amoebas
Brain-eating amoebae are not quite accurate amoeba-like, unicellular creatures called Naegleria fowleri. They are about 30 micrometers in size and can move by means of pseudopodia (false feet). Naegleria fowleri is found mainly in water or in moist soil and is distributed worldwide.
It is also found in lakes, swimming pools and drains. It usually lives on bacteria and dead plant material. If water infected with Naegleria fowleri reaches the nose, the pathogen can penetrate via the olfactory nerves to the brain.
Symptomatic infections are almost always fatal. Although the amoebae are not able to eat the brain, they spread in the cerebral fluid and cause a severe purulent meningitis. About one week passes between infection and the first symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and neck stiffness, and death usually occurs after another week.
Even early treatment rarely leads to survival. However, not every infection may actually lead to illness. The only thing left to do is to prevent a possible infection.
Suitable measures are disinfection of swimming pool water and avoiding natural, especially warm, stagnant water. The disease is very rare; in the USA, for example, hardly more than 100 people have fallen ill in 50 years, although young people are often affected.