When Pedophillic Amoebas Attack

October 5, 2007

 This is gross.  You all laugh when I hold my nose while swimming.

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(CNN) — Ray Herrera does not mince words about what his 12-year-old son, Jack, went through.  “It’s beyond description to watch your most precious, beautiful, wonderful, loved one become a vegetable essentially and then die,” Herrera said.  In August, Jack returned from summer camp that included swims in Texas’ Lake LBJ. Five days after coming home he was dead, killed by a microscopic amoeba.

Jack is one of six people to die this summer in the United States from the naegleria fowleri amoeba.  The amoeba enters the human body through the nose. It then travels to the brain, where it begins to feed.  Symptoms of the amoeba’s rampage begin 1 to 14 days after infection and resemble the flu. At the onset of those symptoms the amoeba victim’s health swiftly declines.  “Folks lapse into a coma, there are abnormal movements of the eyes and a terrible cascade of events leading to the actual death of parts of the brain.”

Although exposure to the amoeba is usually fatal, Sherin says a cocktail of drugs can fight the amoeba if administered in time. The key, he says, is identifying the amoeba early.

Until this summer there were only 24 known cases of the virus in the U.S. since 1989, according to the CDC.  Health officials cannot explain the spike in cases this summer, except that weather plays a factor.

Another question health officials have is why the amoeba seems to appear more often in young males. All six victims this summer were male, ages 10 to 22 years old.  But other than wearing nose plugs while swimming or staying out of freshwater above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, there is little people can do to prevent exposure to the amoeba.

Health officials say federal or local governments have few tools to combat the amoeba.  The health department has posted signs at 15 swimming and boating areas where people may face exposure to the amoeba.  The effectiveness of the signs appears mixed.  As he sunbathed near a sign warning of amoebas, John Walters seemed unconcerned about danger possibly lurking beneath the clear, inviting waters. “Its no worse I suppose than the gator signs over there and somebody did get attacked here once.”

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