Brain-Eating Amoebas Invade US Lakes Due To Global Warming I ran across this online article several weeks ago, and didn’t give it much thought. The article describes a rare form of meningitis, primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. When I first scanned the article and read the PAM acronym, I immediately thought of the huge trucking company down the road.
But this PAM isn’t so innocuous — it’s caused by a parasite known as Naegleria fowleri, and is expected to become more prevalent in North America due to continued climate change (yes, global warming). Ironically, only two weeks after the above article was published, a15 year old Little Rock girl, Kali Hardig, contracted PAM after swimming in the Willow Springs Water Park, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette (August 9, 2013). Here’s what officials know about Naegleria fowleri and PAM:
- the parasite lives in the sediment of warm, shallow lake water
- it travels through the nose, causing parasitic meningitis, which attacks the brain and can ultimately dissolve it
- only 128 people in the United States have been diagnosed with the disease since 1962; of those infected, only one survived
- according to the Centers for Disease Control, PAM symptoms start out relatively mild, then worsen over the course of 5 days.
- the infection is 99% fatal
Initially, Kali’s physicians thought they were dealing with a more common form of meningitis until they got the lab tests back. After discovering the terrible reality of Kali’s condition, the doctors didn’t sugarcoat her prognosis. They told her parents they did not expect her to live through the weekend.
But that’s not the end of the story. The doctors treating Kali at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock sought special permission from the CDC to administer a German cancer drug, Miltefosine, that has not yet been approved by the FDA. Permission was granted and doctors administered the drug directly to Kali’s brain through an IV in an effort to kill the parasite and slow efforts of Kali’s immune system to kill it.
It worked. On Tuesday, Kali was taken off the ventilator and began to breath on her own; she has been responding to questions by shaking and nodding her head. Doctors are reasonably confident she’s going to pull through. Here are some of the reasons Kali survived:
- her mother’s decision to take Kali to the ER — in most cases of PAM, patients try to suffer through what they think is merely the flu
- the urgent request made to the CDC by the doctor’s at Children’s on Kali’s behalf (Arkansas Children’s Hospital is one of the reasons Little Rock is among the top ten US cities to reside in)
- Prayer. And lots of it. Kali’s doctors and parents all concur that there was something going on here beyond human effort.