Malaysia advises public how to avoid Naegleria fowleri after South Korea reports 1st case

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The Malaysian Ministry of Health (KKM) said the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) confirmed that a South Korean man in his fifties died on December 21, 2022 after contracting the amoeba. Naegleria Fowleri. The man reportedly stayed for four months in the Southeast Asian country before returning to South Korea on December 10, 2022.

South Korea has reported its first case of Naegleria fowleri, in a man returning from Thailand

Naegleria (cropped) / CDC

Naegleri fowleri is a thermophilic amoeba or also known as a protozoan single-celled organism that can be found all over the world, especially in freshwater habitats such as lakes, ponds, rivers, hot springs and also in soil. However, they are not found in salt water as they are in the ocean.

The amoeba Naegleri fowleri is also known as the “brain-eating amoeba” because it is capable of causing brain damage through injury to the spinal cord. It is able to enter the human body through the nose during fresh water related activities. However, there is still no evidence that the infection can spread through water vapor or aerosol droplets.

Ameba Naegleri fowleri can cause a severe brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which in turn can be fatal. In the early stages, the symptoms of PAM are similar to those of meningitis caused by other bacteria or viruses such as headache, fever, nausea, or vomiting. More serious symptoms such as neck stiffness, confusion, lack of interest in people and surroundings, seizures, hallucinations, and coma can also occur.

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Usually, these symptoms appear about five days after infection (the incubation period) and can appear as early as one day or up to 12 days after infection. The patient’s condition can also rapidly worsen within five days and death can occur within 1 to 18 days of the onset of symptoms.

The disease is diagnosed by detecting the DNA of Naegleria fowleri in the spinal fluid or brain tissue of an infected individual. In the meantime, this disease is being treated by giving a group of drugs. However, treatment is very limited due to the rapid progression of the disease.

So far, the Ministry of Health has found that no cases of Naegleria fowleri infection have been reported in Malaysia. However, Malaysians are advised to exercise caution and take appropriate measures when undertaking freshwater related activities as follows:

– Avoid digging or messing with any sediment at the bottom of a lake, pond or river because amoeba habitat exists;
– Avoid activities such as diving and jumping into the water as water that may be contaminated with amoeba can enter the nasal cavity directly;
– Wash the body with soap and medicated water after activities in the water; And the
Seek treatment immediately if you experience a sudden fever, headache, vomiting or stiff neck, especially after activities in the water.

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