Dawaai Blog

Naegleria fowleri – The ‘fowl’ Zombie.


Medically reviewed by Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Shera.

I’m sure you’ve heard of brain eating zombies, or at least come across them in that gory videogame your friend dared you to play or that gruesome movie that kept you up all night. Well be prepared to have that nightmare turned into a reality with this terrifying bug that has been known to cause sudden, tragic deaths even in healthy and unsuspecting individuals. Although a quite rare occurrence, this so-called brain eating Amoeba is a single celled organism which thrives in warm waters, untreated swimming pools or untreated tap water, and is capable of entering the human brain through the nose and ends up depending on the brain for their food source, inevitably leading to death.  There are several species of Naegleria but only the Fowleri species causes human disease.

How can you get affected?

Since the nose is a pathway for the Amoeba, the infection may occur through a variety of water sports like swimming, scuba diving, water skiing, or even simply cleaning your nostrils. Basically anything that may force water into your nose. Now once in the nose, the amoebas travel through the olfactory nerve (the nerve connected with sense of smell) into the frontal lobe of the brain. It takes two to 15 days for symptoms to appear after N. fowleri amoebas enter the nose. Death usually occurs three to seven days after symptoms appear. The average time to death is 5.3 days from symptom onset. Only a handful of patients worldwide have been reported to have survived an infection. The early symptoms may include:

  • headache
  • fever
  • stiff neck
  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting
  • altered mental state
  • seizures
  • coma

There may also be hallucinations, drooping eyelid, blurred vision, and loss of the sense of taste.

On a more serious note

So far, there haven’t been any breakthroughs in treating this fatal disease, and researchers are striving to develop one. Thus the best course of action is to avoid dirty and contaminated pools especially in the July-September season when this organism is most active. Even doing Wudu/Cleaning your nostrils with dirty untapped water may also cause this disease so it’s best to be vigilant and more careful. Next time you’re forced to swim in that dirty pool at the farm house you rented with your friends, think twice.

Guest Credits: Dr Shayan Imran



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