Amoebic Meningoencephalitis Season Opener

It’s summertime, and thus time for my favorite microbe to make an appearance.

Naegleria fowleri has been found in the water supply in a small town in Louisiana. I’d bet they are freaking the f$%k out down there in Pointe-aux-Chenes, in Terrebonne Parish.

Luckily, you can’t get primary amoebic meningoencephalitis from drinking the water; you have to get it way up in your nose. Usually it lives in warm, stagnant, fresh-water ponds; you can’t throw a rock in south Louisiana without hitting one of those. I’m amazed there aren’t ten cases a week down there. But this is the first I’ve heard of it being found in a municipal water supply.

Get it into your nasal cavity, and it ascends the olfactory (smell) nerves that penetrate the bony plate at the base of your skull, leading directly to the front part of your brain. Once there, it proceeds to eat brain tissue, forming abscesses. The disease is fatal in a high proportion of cases. Like 95% fatal. There have only been something like 3 or 4 survivors of documented cases of PAM.

Best chance – not that it’s much of a chance – for successful treatment is for the ER doc to suspect the diagnosis promptly, and begin the appropriate antimicrobial treatment. We’re not talking about wheedling a Z-Pak from the urgent-care center; the drugs that kill this beast are some toxic s&^t. Unfortunately, by the time most victims get to the ER, and someone figures out what’s going on, it’s too late. (Honestly, it was probably too late the moment you snuffed in that big snort of pond-water.) Better break out those nose-clips.

It’s morbidly-cool stuff like this that almost had me becoming an infectious-diseases doctor. I’d have wanted to go somewhere to study and treat the really bad stuff. Like those larval worms that make your man-sack swell to gigantic proportions by clogging your lymphatics. Or the various and sundry, sometimes yards-long, worms that might take up residence in your intestines.

People don’t realize just how overmatched we are by the microbial hordes. We are so hugely out-numbered and out-gunned it’s almost comically futile.

Michael Sebastian @mikeseb