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‘Brain-eating’ amoeba kills sixth victim in Karachi

Updated May 31, 2015
The intensive care unit of the Civil Hospital Karachi where a 22-year-old man died of Naegleria fowleri after going into a coma on Saturday.—White Star
The intensive care unit of the Civil Hospital Karachi where a 22-year-old man died of Naegleria fowleri after going into a coma on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: A young resident of Orangi Town on Saturday became the sixth victim of the deadly Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the ‘brain-eating’ amoeba, this year in Sindh, officials said.

Mohammad Muallim, 22, who had been under treatment at the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) for the past two days, was the fifth patient to have died from the disease in May, the officials added.

The officials also confirmed to Dawn the presence of another young patient suffering from the disease in a government health facility.

The lethal amoeba, which survives on the bacteria in warm waters and enters the human brain through nasal cavity and eats up its tissues, could only be eliminated through proper chlorination or boiling of water.

The officials said that Muallim, who resided in Orangi Town’s MPR Colony, had been brought to the CHK two days ago in a critical condition and admitted to the medical intensive care unit. He died at the hospital after falling into a coma on Saturday, they said.

“The patient had a history of three days of severe headache, nausea and irritability,” said Karachi health director Dr Zafar Ejaz while speaking to Dawn.

Read: ‘Brain-eating amoeba’ kills girl in first case of year

The health officials said the patient was initially treated at some private health facilities for malaria and then for meningitis and finally the family shifted him to the CHK when his condition deteriorated. “He was at the ICU where his condition never improved and doctors pronounced him dead today,” said Dr Ejaz.

Before him, four cases were reported from Karachi — a teenage girl, a middle-aged woman, a 37-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy — and all of them died. The only patient who had contracted the disease from an area out of Karachi was a 40-year-old man from Thatta.

Take a look: Naegleria Fowleri: Barricading the brain against the amoeba

The appalling rise in the frequency of deaths because of the deadly disease has exposed the authorities’ claims of taking adequate measures to curb the horrors of the germ, which has killed 29 people in the last three years with 14 deaths recorded just last year.

Water chlorination

A focal group constituted by the health department to monitor chlorination of water supplied to Karachi has collected and examined water samples from across the city.

Of the 216 samples it collected and tested around 55 per cent was found with chlorination less than the desired levels.

The situation has worsened with the passage of time, as the examination of water samples collected last year had showed that a bit less than half of the city neighbourhoods were being supplied with water having insufficient chlorine or no chlorination at all.

The authorities claim of investing heavily in public awareness campaigns failed to impress anyone as the pamphlets might have changed hands in public places but none of them was found pasted in hospitals, mosques, swimming pools or other public places where people could contract the disease through the use of unsafe and poorly chlorinated water.

The officials said the germ could potentially approach the victim’s brain through nasal cavity during ablution at home or in mosques where water supplies were not safely chlorinated. “For rinsing nose during ablution, one needs to use chlorinated or boiled water,” said a senior official.

The authorities said they had asked health officers to visit mosques in their respective areas, check chlorine level in their water reservoirs and ensure that it was free from algae, which is a carrier of Naegleria.

They added the food inspectors of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and Karachi Water and Sewerage Board officials had been asked to regularly take water samples from mosque tanks to ensure that the water being supplied there was duly chlorinated.

Also read: Naegleria warning to health officials

A focal group for the purpose has recently been formed by the provincial government.

Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis 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.

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).

Seventh victim

Sources in the provincial health department confirmed to Dawn that another case of Naegleria was admitted to a government-run hospital.

The sources said the patient had been initially treated for meningitis but doctors later confirmed that he had been suffering from Naegleria fowleri. He had been admitted to the hospital on Friday, they added.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2015

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