Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Nasally Invasive Brain-Eating Amoebae



In his comment on my last post, my good friend Tonic Blotter was kind enough to point out a brighter side-effect of climate change: dolphins returning to Germany.

In the spirit of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand, I regret to convey news of another organism that is migrating to adapt to climate change: nasal-invading, brain-wasting killer amoebae:
It sounds like science fiction, but it's true: Killer amoebas living in lakes can enter the body through the nose and attack the brain, where they feed until you die.

Though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, it is known to have killed six boys and young men in the United States this year; over the decade ending in 2004, the yearly average was 2.3.

The jump in cases has health officials concerned.

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better. In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

[. . . .]

Though infections tend to be found in Southern states, Naegleria lives almost everywhere: in lakes, hot springs, even dirty swimming pools, grazing off algae and bacteria in the sediment.

A person wading through shallow water stirs up the bottom, and if water gets up the person's nose, the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve, which is responsible for conveying smells to the brain.

The amoeba makes its way to the brain, destroying tissue as it goes, Beach said.

[. . . .]

People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In the later stages, they show signs of brain damage, such as hallucinations and behavioral changes, he said.

Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been infected rarely survive, Beach said. "Usually, from initial exposure it's fatal within two weeks," he said.
LA Times.

This has all the makings of an excellent teen horror summer flick. After putting the campers to bed, the camp counselors sneak off to go skinny dipping. They don't wear their nose clips. The lake is unusually warm this year. Amoebae latch onto the olfactory nerves of the frolicking counselors and . . . BAM! -- Zombie brain-eating camp counselors controlled by killer amoebae that have eaten their brains.

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