Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba" or "brain-eating ameba"), is a free-living microscopic ameba (single-celled living organism). It can cause a devastating infection of the brain called Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater (e.g. lakes, rivers, hot springs) and soil. Naegleria fowleri infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the ameba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM, which is 98% fatal. Infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. In some instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water) enters the nose.

Above info from the CDC.

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), is a disease of the central nervous system. PAM is caused by Naegleria fowleri, a common, free-living ameba. It is a  disease that is almost always fatal; only 3 people in the U.S. out of 138 have survived infection from 1962 to 2015.  However, we believe that the  actual number of Pam cases are unknown due to the signs and symptoms of PAM being identical to that of Bacterial or Viral Meningitis.  This causes many cases of PAM to be misdiagnosed as Bacterial or Viral Meningitis.  Thus, this "Rare" infection may not be as rare as once thought.  In addition, PAM is not a mandatory reportable disease to the CDC.  The only states that must report this disease is TX & Fl.  Beth was initially misdiagnosed as Bacterial Meningitis.  By the time PAM was considered, it was too late, she no longer had brain activity.  Symptoms start 1-9 days (median 5 days) after swimming or other nasal exposure to Naegleria-containing water. People die 1-18 days (median 5 days) after symptoms begin. PAM is difficult to detect because the disease progresses rapidly so that diagnosis is usually made after death.

  • Stage 1 Symptoms

    • Severe frontal headache

    • Fever

    • Nausea

    • Vomiting

  • Stage 2 Symptoms

    • Stiff neck

    • Seizures

    • Altered mental status

    • Hallucinations

    • Coma

Where Naegleria fowleri is Found

Naegleria fowleri is a heat-loving (thermophilic) ameba found around the world. Naegleria fowleri grows best at higher water temperatures from 80 up to 115°F and can survive for short periods at even higher temperatures. Naegleria fowleri is naturally found in warm freshwater environments such as lakes, rivers and naturally hot (geothermal) water such as hot springs, warm water discharge from industrial or power plants, geothermal well water, poorly maintained or minimally chlorinated swimming pools, water heaters and soil where it lives by feeding on bacteria.  Naegleria is not found in salt water, like the ocean.

Info from the CDC

Where PAM Infections Have Occurred

PAM infections have been reported from around the world. Infections have primarily occurred in southern-tier states in the U.S., but infections were documented in Minnesota in 2010 and 2012 and other northern states since that time.  It is thought that the increasingly warmer climates have led to this occurance. Over half of all reported infections have occurred in Florida and Texas. In the United States and the rest of the world, PAM is primarily spread via swimming in warm freshwater lakes and rivers.  However other activities such as the use of Neti pots using contaimated water to irrigate the sinuses have led to many deaths especially in other countries where this is a more common practice.