KARACHI: A deadly waterborne infection — primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) caused by Naegleria fowleri — has claimed two lives in two months, health department officials stated on Friday.

One patient died in mid-May and the other in the first week of June.

“They were under 40 years of age and remained hospitalised for some time. The information we have gathered indicates that they both got infected during wazu (ablution),” said Dr Shakeel Ahmed, part of the newly formed Naegleria monitoring and inspection team notified by the health department.

One of the patients resided in the area of Malir while the other Gulistan Society in Quaidabad, he added.

Asked about the delay in announcing the deaths, Dr Ahmed said the staff was waiting for the official notification (on the formation of the Naegleria team) and that the department took all steps necessary in time.

“We have already started our work and contacts with relevant stakeholders being made for preventing deaths from the infection; that is to make sure that piped water and swimming pools are properly chlorinated,” he said.

Last year, the department reported five deaths from the infection.

An amoeba found in rivers, lakes, springs, poorly chlorinated drinking water networks and swimming pools, Naegleria fowleri usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose.

Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM, which is usually fatal.

According to experts, the germ is wrongly referred to as a ‘brain-eating amoeba’ since it does not eat the brain, but infects the brain tissues and its covering membrane.

The disease progresses fast with rising fever and increasing headache, vomiting and stiff neck. Deep coma is followed by cardio-respiratory failure.

It was reported for the first time in Karachi in May 2012 and claimed 10 lives in six months, according to official records.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2021

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