Dawn News

‘Brain-eating amoeba’ claims another life

KARACHI, Oct 3: The death of a young man caused by waterborne Naegleria meningitis has heightened concerns about the quality of water people consume in the city.

A staffer at the infection control section of the Liaquat National Hospital on Wednesday said that a 24-year-old man brought to the LNH with complaints of high-grade fever, headache, vomiting and drowsiness had died of Naegleria fowleri on Tuesday.

Despite efforts by senior physicians, the patient died after two days of his admission to the hospital, the said, adding that he had learnt that the Naegleria causing primary amoebic meningitis (PAM) in humans was a disease which had a fatality rate of over 99 per cent.

Since May, seven people, manly young men, have died of Naegleria fowleri or PAM in the city.

According to experts, the organism was discovered in Australia in the middle of the 1960s, but probably has been infecting humans for centuries and is now being termed ‘brain-eating amoeba’.

Dr Afia Zafar of the Aga Khan University Hospital said Naegleria was commonly found in warm fresh water. Only one species, naegleria fowleri, infected people when water containing the amoeba entered the body through the nose and travelled up to the brain, where it destroyed brain tissues.

Of the seven deaths reported by the provincial health authorities, only one had a history of swimming in a public pool. The ages of the deceased, all men, ranged from 22 to 49 years.

Talking to Dawn the younger brother of the deceased, Uzair Khan, said his brother, a computer engineering graduate, was serving a private firm.

“After returning home from work, my brother used to go to the playground and then back to home and did nothing else. He had no chance of exposure to water, including that of recreational swimming pool, but contracted the disease either at home or work,” he said, adding that the situation was alarming and the health and civic agencies should look into the matter seriously.The young man living in Block 13 of Federal B Area complained of feeling uneasiness on Friday night, following which he was taken to a nearby private hospital which sent him home with medicines for fever and painkillers.

However, the next morning his condition aggravated and he was rushed to the LNH on Saturday and was put on ventilator for a while. Laboratory reports received on Monday confirmed that he was a naegleria patient.

Talking about the cases of naegleria reported in the city this year, Dr Faisal Mamhood, an infectious diseases expert at a private university hospital, said the absence of swimming history in the deceased certainly gave reasons to consider the quality of water consumed by people across the city. “We must ensure proper chlorination of water as has been mentioned in various researches,” he said, adding that dust was also considered to be a source of spread of the amoeba.

Replying to another question, Dr Mahmood said the exact cause of the infection and deaths in different countries during the last many years could not be ascertained as the patients did not survive, leaving little room for undertaking a detailed exercise or retrospective study.

Talking about the earlier cases of Naegleria, the city’s executive district officer for health, Dr Imdadullah Siddiqui, said samples from various swimming pools were taken a couple of months back, but nothing “disturbing” was found. He added that samples were drawn from different water pumping stations operated by the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board also, but only a few of them were found lacking the standard level of chlorine.

Replying to a question, he said the KWSB and owner of swimming pools and other water reservoirs should maintain chlorination of water up to the mark.

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