‘Brain-eating amoeba’ kills man with no swimming history

Published August 23, 2014
The deadly disease had surfaced in the city in 2012 when it claimed 10 lives. — Photo by AFP
The deadly disease had surfaced in the city in 2012 when it claimed 10 lives. — Photo by AFP

KARACHI: A young man from Karachi’s Garden area has been confirmed as the latest victim of the ‘brain-eating amoeba’, or Naegleria fowleri, as the death toll blamed on the deadly virus in Sindh has reached eight in three months, officials said on Friday.

They said that 34-year-old Mohammad Aamir, a resident of the Garden West area, was admitted to a local hospital in a precarious condition on Wednesday where he died on Thursday.

The victim was a shopkeeper and had no history of swimming, said to be a major cause of the infection, said the officials.

“He was the eighth victim of naegleria this year in Sindh. Seven deaths have been reported from Karachi and another from Hyderabad,” said Dr Zafar Ijaz, the executive district officer-health, Karachi.

“We have taken samples of water from his house and shop for examination,” he added.

The officials, however, said speculation about the death of a three-year-old girl in another private hospital could not be confirmed as her report carried no such cause mentioned by the doctors.

The youngest victim who died last month from the deadly virus was a nine-month-old baby girl. A four-year-old boy was previously the youngest victim. He died in 2012.

The first death this year was reported on May 27 in Gulistan-i-Jauhar.

The deadly disease had surfaced in the city in 2012 when it claimed 10 lives. Another three people died because of it last year.

Sources said the neighbourhood, where the fatality had been reported, had shown negligible chlorination in the water supplied through the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board when lately samples were taken and analysed.

The water analysis of the city has shown that more than 40 per cent of the water in the metropolis is supplied with much less than the required chlorine levels.

Among the six previous victims, two belonged to Gulistan-i-Jauhar, the area that previously fell in the erstwhile Gulshan Town.

Health officials asserted that naegleria could be countered only through proper chlorination or boiling of water.

Six out of seven naegleria-related deaths belonged to Karachi, while a young man who died early this month in a Karachi private hospital originally came from Hyderabad.

The officials said all the victims had no history of swimming. Swimming is considered to be one of key factors causing the primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

“This amoeba can only be eliminated by properly chlorinated water,” said a provincial health official, who conceded that the water being supplied elsewhere in Sindh was pathetically more dangerous as far as chlorination was concerned.

All the hospitals in Sindh have already been asked to carry out examinations for naegleria as well of the patients whom they admitted for suspected meningitis as both the disease have many similar symptoms.

However, any efforts to improve the performance of the KWSB and its counterparts in other Sindh districts are still lacking. Maintaining chlorination in water supplied to the city is part of the KWSB’s responsibilities.

The ages of the naegleria victims so far ranged between nine months and 49 years. PAM is defined in medical literature as a rare but typically fatal infection caused by naegleria fowleri, an amoeba found in rivers, lakes, springs, drinking water networks and poorly chlorinated swimming pools.Only three cases have been reported so far in the medical literature of the world where patients suffering from this infection survived.Swimming in public pools with improper arrangement for chlorination was believed to be the only cause of contracting the dreaded amoeba infection.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).

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2014

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