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‘Brain-eating amoeba’ kills teenager

May 18, 2013

KARACHI, May 17: A 14-year-old boy — this year’s first victim of ‘brain-eating amoeba’ (Naegleria fowleri) in the city — died exactly a week after he had been admitted to hospital for treatment, provincial health authorities and the hospital management confirmed to Dawn on Friday.

Naegleria fowleri, which causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), enters water and goes through human nasal cavity to attack the brain.

The authorities had declared the boy critically ill on Thursday.

“We confirm that the boy who had been diagnosed with Naegleria fowleri died at Liaquat National Hospital late Thursday night,” said Imdadullah Siddiqui, executive district officer for health, while speaking to Dawn.

The hospital’s management also confirmed the boy’s death.

The boy’s father is a public servant who lives near Bilal Masjid in union council-7 of Korangi Town.

“This is the first death because of Naegleria fowleri in Karachi though no other case has been reported elsewhere from the city so far,” said Mr Siddiqui.

He said the boy had been admitted to the hospital on May 10 and could not survive despite doctors’ efforts to save his life.

A research mentions only three cases in the medical literature of the world where patients suffering from this infection survived.

While swimming in public pools with improper arrangements for chlorination was believed to be a major cause of contracting the dreaded amoeba infection, the officials said the boy had no history of swimming.

These germs travel through the nasal cavity and only affect the brain.

The illness attacks a healthy person, three to seven days after exposure to contaminated water with symptoms of headache and slight fever, in some cases associated with sore throat and rhinitis (commonly called stuffy nose).

Naegleria fowleri had emerged in the city in May last year and claimed 10 lives till October, according to official records.

While senior physicians are still clueless about the spread of the lethal amoeba, health experts suggested that physicians and clinicians go beyond international research and deduce an indigenous opinion on the issue.

The health officials said that save one none of the patients who died last year in the city from Naegleria had the history of swimming.

The ages of the Naegleria victims ranged from four years to 49 years.

To counter the situation, the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) has once again announced taking certain measures, which are not different from what they were last year after several deaths.

It is the first Naegleria death since last October when two patients had died from the disease.

KWSB officials said they had established a monitoring cell on an emergency basis to monitor water supply to citizens.

Besides, KWSB officers of all the five districts have been directed to collect water samples from their respective areas and share its report with the media on a daily basis.

It is said a deputy chief engineer would be the monitoring cell’s focal person who would supervise the amount of chlorine added to water being supplied to the city.

These measures are not different from what the KWSB had taken last year.

The KWSB is going to launch an ‘awareness campaign’ to inform citizens about preventive measure against Naegleria. A similar drive is being launched by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).

Meanwhile, the KMC administrator asked the municipal services department to go for a cleanliness campaign on a war-footingto check the spread of malaria, dengue and Naegleria.

He announced that a fumigation drive for elimination of malaria and dengue was under way in the city. Fumigation would be carried out in narrow streets and impoverished areas on a priority basis, he added.