SOME half a dozen deaths of people infected with Naegleria fowleri — the lethal ‘brain-eating’ amoeba that thrives in freshwater sources — has prompted the Pakistan Medical Association to issue a warning to the public to take preventive measures. In the past few days, at least six people have died from this deadly illness, all of them in Karachi. One of the victims hailed from Balochistan while the rest were from the city. Though the number of deaths are relatively small, the PMA representatives fear that the actual number may be much higher since many cases tend to go unreported. Naegleria fowleri is usually found in freshwater reservoirs, such as those built for supplying water to domestic consumers, and is transmitted when contaminated water goes up the nose during ablution, washing or bathing. The amoeba enters the brain, causing meningoencephalitis, and is fatal in 95pc of cases. Symptoms can include body ache, high-grade fever, drowsiness, fainting and coma.

The PMA is right to raise the alarm since the emergence of cases indicates that the city’s water supply is not adequately chlorinated, putting a large number of people at risk at a time when a pandemic is already testing their resilience. According to a recent report of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, 70pc of pumping stations supply water with either no chlorine or very low levels of it. The samples were collected from hydrants, reservoirs at University Road and Kidney Hill, two functional Dumlottee wells and pumping stations. This report belies the claim of KWSB officials that chlorine evaporates from the water supply lines. The authorities must immediately act on the warning of the medical authorities. Chlorination of water reservoirs is a relatively simple and cheap task that needs to be executed without any delay to prevent further loss of life from a lethal infection. If they do not, the number of cases will only grow in a city whose healthcare resources are already stretched to the limit.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2021

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